Baby boomers Clinton, Blair reaffirm an older alliance New-era politicians meet for first time at 10 Downing St.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LONDON -- Roosevelt and Churchill.

Reagan and Thatcher.

And now, there's Bill and Tony.

Yesterday, a new historic relationship between staunch American and British allies was unveiled when President Clinton went to No. 10 Downing St. to meet new Prime Minister Tony Blair.

This wasn't a trans-Atlantic meeting of minds forged through war or hard times. It was a love fest between two young politicians trained as lawyers and raised on rock 'n' roll. Titles were dropped. First names were used.

At the end of his three-day European trip, Clinton even addressed Blair's Cabinet. And the new Democrat and the architect of new Labor's May 1 election landslide shared the same political rhetoric. Only the accents were different.

"I have read countless articles about how Prime Minister Blair and I have everything in common," Clinton said.

"And I'm still looking for my 179-seat majority," the president said, pointing to Blair's huge advantage in Britain's House of Commons.

Blair, looking like a school boy trying to impress a new friend, was far more serious. "We have a shared language," he intoned. "We have a shared outlook on many of the issues that face us.

"We are determined to share, too, our ideas, our expertise and our commitment to a new era of cooperation and understanding."

Yet amid all the smiles, there were serious discussions on some of the world's trouble spots.

In an hourlong news conference in the rose garden at 10 Downing St., Clinton made an overture to Iran's new moderate president, Mohammad Khatami.

He called the cleric's victory in Friday's elections interesting and hopeful, and offered Iran the same tough terms -- but a fresh opportunity -- to repair relations with the United States.

But Clinton emphasized that Iran would have to renounce terrorism, stop opposing the Middle East peace process, and give up trying to develop weapons of mass destruction before the 18-year breach with Washington could be closed.

The United States broke ties with Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis in which Islamic radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

"I have never been pleased with the estrangements between the people of the United States and the people of Iran," Clinton said. "I hope the estrangements can be bridged."

He added that Khatami's election was a "hopeful sign."

James Steinberg, U.S. deputy national security adviser, emphasized the United States was not launching a new policy. And he said the question now is whether Iran is "going to seize the opportunity."

On Bosnia, where about 8,500 U.S. troops are due to leave in June 1998, Clinton hinted that the soldiers may be forced beyond the deadline to police a peace forged by the 1995 Dayton, Ohio, accords.

The British have led the European call for U.S. troops to remain in Bosnia beyond the deadline.

"I would agree to this extent with the prime minister, which is that I don't think we ought to be talking about how we're going to leave," Clinton said.

"I think we ought to be talking about what we're going to do tomorrow and next week and next month. And if we work like crazy in the next 13 months, do I believe we can fulfill our mission and that they can go forward? Yes, I do.

"But I think we're going to have to make some very tough decisions," Clinton added. "We can't play around with this. We can't just sort of hang around, and then disappear in a year, and expect the Dayton process to go forward."

On Northern Ireland, Clinton called on the Irish Republican Army to again embrace a cease-fire so that its political wing, Sinn Fein, could be included in all-party peace talks.

"You can't say we'll talk and shoot -- talk when we're happy and shoot when we're not," Clinton said, in a jab at the IRA.

Unlike his predecessor John Major, Blair has welcomed Clinton's input on Northern Ireland. When Major was prime minister, the British often accused the Americans of meddling in their domestic affairs in Northern Ireland.

In fact, Blair and Clinton seem to agree on most things.

"We agree that our priority as political leaders must indeed be education, education, education," Blair said in lauding the American political leader who seeks to be known as the "education president."

During their face-to-face meeting, the men discussed a range of issues but honed in on job creation.

They also announced a joint plan to promote a two-year employment agenda with the leading industrialized nations.

And during his appearance at the British Cabinet meeting -- the first by a world leader since Richard M. Nixon sat in on Harold Wilson's Cabinet in 1969 -- Clinton asserted that he read the Labor Party's political manifesto.

He even said he echoed some of its phrases, such as "for the many not the few, the future not the past, leadership not drift."

"This is a very exciting time and I'm glad to be here," Clinton told the Cabinet.

"I have watched with enormous interest the energy and vigor with which you have all taken office and the optimism with which you pursue it," he said.

While the political leaders were chummy, their wives -- both lawyers -- appeared to enjoy spending time together.

Hillary Clinton and Cherie Booth talked about raising children under a media microscope.

They also attended a performance of "Henry V" at the reproduction of the Globe Theatre, the 16th century wooden theater where Shakespeare's plays were first performed.

The production was authentic, right down to the all-male cast.

Later, the couples headed out for a three-hour dinner at a posh restaurant overlooking the Thames River.

They started their meal with champagne. Then, the women drank wine.

The leaders stuck with beer.

Pub Date: 5/30/97

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