Clinton, Bush bury hatchet President-elect praises briefing

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Superpower summits during the height of the Cold War opened on a warmer, more cordial note than President Bush's first encounter yesterday with President-elect Bill Clinton, but both men said they were satisfied with the meeting.

Mr. Bush's back was hunched with tension as he greeted his former opponent on the driveway outside the Oval Office shortly after 1 p.m., then shook hands for the benefit of photographers stationed nearby.


There were no public words of welcome from the president as he and Mr. Clinton posed briefly in the Rose Garden in front of TC hundreds of microphones and scribbling reporters.

"We just decided there would be no questions here," said Mr. Bush, who told reporters he was sure they could catch Mr. Clinton elsewhere during his two-day, post-election blitz of Washington.


Mr. Clinton wore a Cheshire-cat grin and didn't say a word at all.

For most of the next hour and 45 minutes, the two erstwhile combatants sat alone in the Oval Office trying to bridge a gap between administrations and the antagonism of the campaign.

"It was a terrific meeting," said the president-elect, who offered the only firsthand account of the session. "It was very helpful, just very, very helpful. . . . He was very candid, and he gave me the benefit of his thinking about a lot of things. I asked for his advice about a lot of things."

The two leaders primarily discussed foreign affairs, covering "more than a dozen active or potential trouble spots in the world," Mr. Clinton told reporters after he left the White House. "We talked about the kind of problems I might face in the rest of the world."

He specifically mentioned the bloody ethnic conflict now under way in Bosnia-Herzegovina and President Boris N. Yeltsin's difficulties in holding together the reform movement in Russia.

The Arkansas governor said he appealed to the president to swiftly issue new rules clarifying whether the states can tax Medicaid providers, such as doctors, hospitals and nursing homes, to offset costs of federally mandated health-care programs for the poor.

Arkansas and many other states are facing a growing crisis of cost overruns in their Medicaid programs.

"He said [the new rules] would be out no later than next week, which is a big sigh of relief for all the states in the country," Mr. Clinton reported.


Mr. Bush, who has spent little time with reporters since he lost his bid for re-election Nov. 3, chose not to provide his own account of the session yesterday.

Marlin Fitzwater, the White House press secretary, issued a printed statement describing % a "warm and informative conversation" that lasted 45 minutes longer than scheduled. The statement noted that Mr. Bush had "expressed satisfaction" with the meeting.

After the first hour, the two leaders popped into a meeting of their transition team directors that was taking place in the nearby Roosevelt Room.

"It was what President Bush calls a 'stick-your-head-in and say hello' visit that lasted no more than 90 seconds," said Chase Untermeyer, who will help run the Bush side of the transition with Transportation Secretary Andrew Card.

The president offered particularly warm greetings to Clinton transition chairman Vernon Jordan and transition director Warren M. Christopher, both of whom he knows personally, Mr. Untermeyer said.

Mr. Clinton's Washington visit continues this morning with a breakfast meeting with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, a half-hour of greeting tourists in the Capitol's Rotunda around noon and a bi-partisan luncheon with members of Congress.


The commander-in-chief-to-be is also scheduled to meet later with Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton plans to visit first lady Barbara Bush at the White House this afternoon to look over her new home.