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White House Makes It 'Official' on First Lady's Trip to Funeral

By John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 1997; Page A24

EDGARTOWN, Mass., Sept. 3óReversing a statement from the day before, a White House spokesman said today that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will be representing the United States on an "official" basis when she flies to London Friday for the funeral of Princess Diana.

On Tuesday, the White House line was that Hillary Clinton was representing the Clinton family and would "not be representing the government officially," in the words of spokesman Joe Lockhart. But today Lockhart said he had described the trip incorrectly: "She's going as the first lady, and it's an official trip for her. . . . She's going and she will represent the government."

This bobbling was the latest instance of the White House's difficulty in trying to decide who would travel to London and how to explain the decision in a way to deflect criticism from admirers of the princess who think President Clinton should be in attendance.

White House officials maintain that since Diana's services are not a "state funeral," diplomatic protocol makes it inappropriate for him to lead a U.S. delegation. Moreover, they say, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made clear to Clinton in a Monday phone call that the royal family and the Spencer family wanted Hillary Clinton to represent the United States because of her "close personal association" with Diana, who she had met on a number of occasions.

But these explanations have not satisfied some grieving admirers, who have complained to reporters and called the White House to protest that the president is being insensitive by continuing his vacation here instead of traveling to London. Clinton aides today acknowledged that the nuances of protocol do not resonate with a grieving public, but they said a presidential trip to London was never seriously considered.

On Monday, reporters asked Clinton before he went out golfing whether he planned to attend. He turned his head away, but in a muffled voice uttered something that reporters interpreted as "doubt it."

The uncertainty forced White House aides to confirm that Clinton was not going, even though they had hoped to defer this announcement until the next day, by which time a decision would be made about who would be going instead.

Lockhart said his initial statement that the first lady's trip was "unofficial" reflected the fact that the British extended invitations "not necessarily on the basis of official positions, but on people with special personal associations." But Lockhart acknowledged that his statements were less than clear: "I went back over the transcript yesterday and I even confused myself on the whole issue of official versus unofficial."

In Washington, the Senate declared Saturday a national day of recognition for Diana's charitable deeds. Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said the House planned to honor her with a similar resolution.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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