Subject: USA: Clinton and Holbrooke to Timor


May 7, 2002, Tuesday, FIRST EDITION

Bush picks Clinton for E. Timor diplomatic trip

Bill Nichols


WASHINGTON -- President Bush has picked a seasoned diplomatic hand for a new overseas mission: Bill Clinton.

Administration officials say the former president will join the U.S. delegation to the May 20 celebration of independence for East Timor, the former Indonesian territory that separated from Jakarta in 1999. The officials say the selection is meant as a peace overture to Clinton, whose presidency has been criticized repeatedly by Bush and his aides.

The trip marks the first time Clinton has been enlisted in an official capacity by his successor. Clinton aides say he was invited by White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. A public White House announcement is expected soon.

Presidents have rarely tapped predecessors from another party for official missions, even largely ceremonial ones such as this trip. When Clinton was president, he included his predecessor, George Bush, in the delegations that attended the funerals of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein.

While in East Timor, Clinton also will attend the inauguration of East Timor President-elect Xanana Gusmao. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Clinton's second term, also will be part of the U.S. team.

Administration officials say Clinton was chosen because the White House wanted to convey a message of "no hard feelings" toward his administration. At the same time, officials say, the administration wanted to avoid sending Clinton to a higher-profile event that might stir resentment within Bush's conservative base.

The Clinton administration pushed the United Nations into sending peacekeepers to East Timor when elements of the Indonesian military mounted a campaign of violence after the territory voted for independence in 1999.

Sources close to Clinton say they don't know what motivated Bush's action. But they noted that the invitation came after Bush charged that Clinton's failed Middle East summit in 2000 led to a Palestinian uprising against Israel. Bush said later that he meant no criticism.

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