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Washington Insight

February 28, 1994|PAUL HOUSTON and THOMAS B. ROSENSTIEL

WHERE? The United Nations is in a dither over its annual conference, an event of sizable diplomatic significance. The world body likes to hold the gathering in an appropriate setting, and what with population problems being the focus this year, Cairo was thought to be apt. But Egypt is suffering a militant anti-foreigner campaign, and the fear among the U.N.'s upper echelon is that delegations of high-ranking foreign officials could provide too tempting a target for terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists. Now there is talk of moving the conference to New York. . . . Trouble is that that would be a stinging embarrassment to U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Egypt's former deputy foreign minister. Even worse, Egypt used to make $3 billion a year on tourism, and last year the country lost about a third of that because of the anti-foreigner sentiment. If the U.N. pulls out, Egypt will have little chance of beginning a recovery, officials worry.

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WE'RE WHERE? Disaster does seem to bring unlikely people together, but for sworn political enemies, this was absurd. While surveying areas battered by the Northridge earthquake, senior Clinton Administration aides visited a makeshift disaster assistance center--at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. . . . To some of the Democrats there, the Reagan presidency itself was a federal disaster. But after they had taken a look at quake relief efforts, library Director Ralph C. Bledsoe offered to give the officials a quick tour of the Reagan showcase. As James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and John Emerson, deputy assistant to President Clinton, and others posed for pictures in the replica of a famous White House room, one of the Clintonites commented with some surprise: "Well, the Oval Office still looks the same."

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HELP WANTED: There's some grumbling around that the President's close advisers aren't helping him as much as they should. A fragment of the feeling seemed to surface recently when South Korean Foreign Minister Han Sung Joo made a hurried trip to Washington on the issue of nuclear weapons, stopped in Canada and came back again to Washington. At a dinner for him at the Korean Embassy, Deputy National Security Council Director Samuel Berger gave this toast: "We see him at the White House more often than James Carville, and we have a better time with him too." . . . Carville, of course, is the wizardly consultant who helped Clinton take the White House--but his advice on how to hold on to it has been occasional and, sometimes, acerbic.

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IMPERFECT FIGURE: Arguing against confirmation of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) drew from hours of watching the Olympics on TV and used a figure skating analogy: "I give Mr. Talbott very high marks for artistic impression. It is in the technical proficiency category that he falls down."

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NOT PLUGGED IN: But not everyone has been riveted by the Olympics, or the saga of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Back at the United Nations, Boutros-Ghali, a workaholic who never watches TV, visited a doctor this month for a sore knee. Well, it could be arthritis, the doctor said. Or it could be gout spreading up your leg. Or it could be a blow from Tonya. "Tonya?" the secretary general said. "What's that?"

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