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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Nation's Political Drama Swirls at Brunei Summit

November 16, 2000|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei — Fascination with the electoral aftermath playing out in Florida doesn't stop at America's shores. It was a constant undercurrent Wednesday halfway around the world in the tiny Southeast Asian kingdom of Brunei, where foreign leaders from four continents also appeared to be caught up in the drama.

President Clinton found himself regularly forced to comment on and explain the situation, and allay the concerns of his counterparts.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin raised the issue publicly as he greeted Clinton--even before the two leaders held bilateral talks about reducing global nuclear threats.

Others commented on the controversial U.S. presidential contest when the 21 leaders assembled for their group photograph and Clinton walked down the line shaking hands.

Barely halfway into the first day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Clinton finally had to acknowledge to reporters that several leaders had brought up the U.S. electoral process.

In a photo session before luncheon talks with the U.S. president, Putin admitted his concerns. "We're anxious, but with respect to the feelings of the American people, we are waiting for the outcome," Putin said through an interpreter.

"President Clinton during the term of his presidency has caused a breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations, and we expect this torch to be given to whoever will be the successor," Putin said.

In his address to APEC, an 11-year-old organization he helped convert into a major world economic alliance early in his presidency, Clinton brought down the house Wednesday by referring to the election uncertainty.

Warning against the dangers of making predictions, he said the one thing he could safely say is that he will not be representing the U.S. when APEC leaders hold their 2001 gathering in China.

"I just don't know who will be here next year," he said.

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