In Morocco, a Diplomatic Hillary Clinton Emerges
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 1999; Page A17
MARRAKESH, Morocco, March 31 — Forget the Senate. Over the last 12 days, Hillary Rodham Clinton has looked and sounded more like a candidate for secretary of state.
There she was in Egypt, gently urging tolerance for the minority Coptic Christians. There she was in Tunisia, lashing out at Islamic radicals in other countries who oppress women. And here she was in Morocco, speaking out on everything from the Middle East peace process to the NATO airstrikes in Yugoslavia.
It has hardly been a new role for the most traveled first lady in American history. Indeed, Clinton's trek through the deserts of North Africa has closely followed the political and diplomatic road map she has used through six years of globe-trotting to such out-of-the-way locales as South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet republics.
But the sight of the first lady back on the world stage where she feels so sure-footed brought into sharp focus the peculiar trade-offs facing her as she decides whether to run next year for the seat of retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.): How does a woman who eagerly told an audience this morning about education and economics in Guatemala and Uganda turn her attention to the pork-and-potholes issues that arise in places like Utica and Ithaca? How does a woman whose international profile is so high that bystanders in Africa two years ago referred to her as "the queen of the world" adjust to becoming a low-ranking member of the seniority-conscious Senate?
These are the questions that some advisers leery of her Senate flirtation have been asking her. If she has come up with any answers, she was not letting on today.
"I'm still weighing all this in my own mind," she told reporters as she prepared to return to Washington Thursday. "I've really tried to put it out of my mind the last 10 days . . . so I will start thinking about that again once I return home."
But she added that she would hardly forget the issues she has made her mantra around the world, including women's rights, education and religious tolerance. "These issues should be a priority no matter what I do," she said. "I don't believe that my one voice is in any way sufficient to speak out on some of these issues. But I will continue to add it no matter what decision I make about my future."
She added it in her own trademark manner in North Africa. She stuck to themes and tones that would not offend her hosts, while pushing her causes with carefully chosen words and pictures.
As she does on most of her overseas trips, Clinton visited a microenterprise program that helps women start businesses with small loans, met with nongovernmental organizations advocating human rights, announced modest U.S. financial help and convened a round-table discussion of local women to talk about their status in society.
The pattern is so familiar that embassies notified in advance no longer need much guidance in arranging for her visits. "In the beginning, people didn't know quite what to expect," said Margaret A. Williams, her former chief of staff, who came to Morocco to help with the visit. "Now people know to start putting together the lists of all the women in town."
By this point, embassies know to identify some of the most exotic sightseeing for the first lady and her daughter, Chelsea, 19, who joined her while on break from Stanford University. In Egypt they toured the ancient Luxor Temple and in Morocco they rode camels in the Dunes of Merzouga.
Clinton had planned to visit Israel and Jordan, but scratched them from her itinerary in light of the Israeli elections and the recent death of Jordan's King Hussein. Yet the politics of the Middle East followed her in Arab countries that recall -- and heartily applaud -- her statement last year essentially supporting Palestinian statehood as part of the long-term solution to the region's tensions.
Mindful of the dust storm that comment created -- and perhaps of sensitivities about the topic in New York -- Clinton did not repeat it here. Asked about the issue today, she took a decidedly more neutral tack, to the point of implicitly urging Palestinian leaders not to declare statehood on their own at this point.
Less likely to cause problems in New York were her attacks on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for his campaign to empty Kosovo of ethnic Albanians.
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