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Clinton Names Staff Chief, Looks Ahead on Bosnia

November 09, 1996|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Three days after his election to a second term, President Clinton opened the door Friday to an extended deployment of U.S. troops in Bosnia, a step that he carefully avoided throughout his reelection campaign.

And moving publicly into the business of renewing his administration, the president accepted the resignation of Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta and announced at a White House news conference that he had chosen Erskine Bowles as Panetta's replacement.

The length of the Bosnia deployment was not mentioned in public by the president during the closing weeks of his campaign. Indeed, in his discussions of foreign policy matters, he spoke in only the broadest terms, avoiding the difficult details of such arenas of uncertain progress as the Balkans, the Middle East and Russia.

U.S. troops arrived in Bosnia last December to uphold the peace agreement reached a year ago, setting up buffers between the warring Muslims, Croats and Bosnian Serbs. At that time, Clinton and his aides said the deployment would last a year. They said later that some forces would remain until March 1997, to conduct an efficient, phased withdrawal.

"They've done their jobs very well," Clinton said.

Now, he said, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in which the United States plays a leading role, is considering whether to recommend to its participants a more limited, but extended, operation.

"It is conceivable that we could participate, but it depends upon exactly what the recommendation is," the president said.

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The hourlong post-election news conference in the White House East Room was the president's first such extended session with reporters since June 29. In addition to the announcement of Bowles' appointment, he took time to speak kindly of Republican challenger Bob Dole, said he had been too tired after the election to talk with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton about what role she will play during the next four years and suggested that--despite his criticism of the Republican-inspired welfare overhaul during the campaign--he does not foresee a major new effort to change the program.

"The welfare reform legislation is law now," he said, adding that it is time to figure out how to make it "work for the children."

Throughout the campaign, Clinton sought to ease the concerns of those who said the new welfare system would deprive poor families with children of an extended federal safety net. He had suggested that he would reopen the welfare debate after the election in an attempt to fix any shortcomings.

During the last four years, Bowles, 51, has been head of the Small Business Administration, a Panetta deputy at the White House and, most recently, an investment banker in North Carolina.

The new chief of staff, whose job does not require Senate confirmation, was credited in 1994 with forcing a sense of discipline on the ungainly White House staff. Bowles, who only met Clinton midway through the 1992 campaign, is a relative newcomer to the White House, but one on whom the president has relied as a trouble-shooter and confidant.

"He was one of those most responsible for bringing focus and direction" to the administration, Clinton said of Bowles' tenure as deputy chief of staff.

Clinton offered effusive praise and a hug for Panetta, the former House member from Carmel Valley who gave up his congressional seat to become the administration's first budget director and then became chief of staff in 1994.

"He has become my great friend, more than my countryman, more than my fellow Democrat, more even than my fellow worker," Clinton said. "In the language of his people, he is my paisan."

Panetta is returning to California, as is Laura D'Andrea Tyson, who as head of the National Economic Council has been one of Clinton's closest economic advisors.

Clinton also addressed the Middle East conflict during the news conference, saying the next major hurdle for negotiators is that posed by Hebron. The West Bank city is still occupied by Israeli soldiers despite the agreement reached between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to turn it over to security forces of the Palestinian Authority.

"I think the first and most important thing we can do is to nail the agreement on Hebron," Clinton said. "If we can clear the Hebron hurdle--it has such emotional significance to both sides, as well as such practical significance--I believe that will open the door to go on and fulfill all the other challenges that are there before us."

For the 50-year-old president, it was a rare public performance. He joked with reporters whose questions in the past have caused him to take umbrage. He remained unrattled while his honesty was questioned. And he displayed none of the ill effects of the wearing final days of his cross-country campaign.

Vice President Al Gore watched the performance from a front-row seat as Clinton conceded that he had slept in on Thursday, until sometime after the noon hour.

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