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  Yeltsin to Lead Russian Funeral Delegation

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 8, 1999; Page A13

MOSCOW, Feb. 7 President Boris Yeltsin, whose fragile health has sidelined him from active political leadership, will head Russia's delegation to the funeral of King Hussein, joining dozens of world leaders who today expressed praise for the longtime Jordanian monarch.

Tributes to Hussein and messages of sorrow to his family and the Jordanian people were issued by governments in Jerusalem, Paris, Beijing, London and a host of others around the globe. Many of these stressed Hussein's dedication to bridging ancient enmities between Arab and Jew and to bringing a lasting peace to the Middle East.

Israeli President Ezer Weizman declared: "We, in Israel, and in the whole Middle East, are obliged to continue his legacy. . . . The state of Israel seeks peace, and I, as its president, will do my utmost to ensure it."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will join Prince Charles in leading Britain's delegation to Monday's funeral in Amman, called Hussein a man of "vision, integrity and courage" and voiced confidence that the new monarch, King Abdullah, also would be "a good friend to peace in the Middle East."

French Premier Lionel Jospin called Hussein a man of courage who devoted himself to "development and security for his country . . . and to the search for peace." In Beijing, Chinese President Jiang Zemin called Hussein a great leader and an outstanding statesman, while Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi praised his contributions "to the present prosperity of Jordan and toward greater stability in the Middle East."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recalled how Hussein left his sick bed at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to break a deadlock during last year's negotiations on an interim peace accord at the Wye River Plantation in Maryland. "His death challenges us to finish the job," Annan said.

Leaders from scores of countries, including President Clinton, have said they will travel to Amman for the state funeral, but the announcement that Yeltsin will lead the Russian delegation came as something of a surprise and was attended by official confusion.

Early this evening, the Interfax news agency quoted Russian diplomats as saying that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to whom Yeltsin has surrendered much of his authority would attend the funeral. Then the Russian Tass news agency announced that Yeltsin would go; a presidential spokesman declined to confirm the change immediately but said later that Yeltsin would lead the delegation.

Yeltsin's determination to attend comes at a time when Primakov has been trying to persuade the president to cede him the power to dismiss the current government a move that would give the prime minister virtually a free hand to rule until next year's presidential election.

Yeltsin's trip to Amman will be a gauge of whether the 68-year-old Russian leader has the stamina to perform even ceremonial duties. This year, he has made only three trips to his Kremlin office, spending the rest of the time at his country home, a health spa or a hospital. Most recently, he has been beset by a bleeding ulcer, the latest in a long line of illnesses that have diminished his work capacity since he underwent heart bypass surgery two years ago.

Since Yeltsin's last trip abroad in October, when he nearly collapsed on an airport runway in Uzbekistan, he has canceled visits to Austria and France.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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