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President Wishes Lewinsky Success

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  • From Saturday's Post: Italy Rages as Clinton, Prime Minister Meet

  • By Charles Babington
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, March 6, 1999; Page A1

    President Clinton said yesterday he wishes Monica S. Lewinsky well and does not begrudge her the millions of dollars she might make from interviews and book sales because "she paid quite a high price" for their affair.

    In his most extensive public remarks to date about the former White House intern, the president said, "this was a pretty tough thing for everybody involved, and I wish her well. I hope it works out all right for her."

    Asked at a White House news conference if it is appropriate for Lewinsky to reap millions by selling a book about their relationship, plus interviews to European news organizations, Clinton replied: "That's not a decision for me to make. ... I don't wish anyone ill who was caught up in this, and she paid quite a high price for a long time, and I feel badly for that."

    Clinton, joined at the news conference by Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, appeared somber as he addressed the Lewinsky question. But he dwelled on it considerably longer than he did nine days ago, when he dismissed a similar question in a similar setting, with Ghana's president.

    Lewinsky, 25, launched a media blitz Wednesday night with a two-hour prime-time interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters, reportedly seen by 70 million people. Immediately after came the publication of her tell-all book, "Monica's Story," already a best seller. Lewinsky has charged European magazines and TV stations up to $660,000 for interviews or photo spreads. Her total take from the media extravaganza could be $3 million, publishers say.

    For Clinton, the affair and his efforts to conceal it led to his impeachment in the House and trial in the Senate. Having once referred coldly to Lewinsky as "that woman," the president yesterday had nothing but restrained, gentle words.

    "What I hope is that she will be permitted to go on with her life, and I hope it will be a good life," he said, as D'Alema and two dozen Italian journalists looked on. "And I hope that all the people who have been hurt by this, including totally innocent people who have massive legal bills, will get the help they need. And I'm determined to do what I can to help them."

    "The important thing," Clinton continued, "is that the American people are virtually screaming at us to get on with their lives and their business, and to do their business. And I'm going to do my best to do that as well as I possibly can."

    On the topic of Lewinsky's possible earnings, Clinton appeared philosophical.

    "One of the things I've learned that I've had to relearn all over again in this last four-year episode is that all I can control in life is what I do and what I say," Clinton said. "And if I do and say the right things, then that's the thing that's best for me and my family and for the American people. And that's what I'm concentrating on doing."

    On other topics, Clinton rejected a suggestion that NATO makes empty threats in dealing with Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, whose troops are fighting an independence drive by ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo. The Serbs and Kosovar Albanians have until March 15 to decide whether to sign a U.S.-backed peace plan aimed at ending the fighting there.

    "I don't think it's fair to say that NATO threatens and backs away," Clinton said, addressing criticisms that Western powers have allowed the Serbs to carry out atrocities with impunity. "We took military action in Bosnia which led directly to the peace [there]," he said. "So I don't think Mr. Milosevic is under any illusion that if NATO has an action order outstanding that we won't activate it. And I would be astonished to believe that our allies would back away from a commitment we had made."

    Clinton denied that pursuing an anti-missile defense system would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed with Russia. The treaty bars one nation from building a defensive shield that would upset the nuclear balance between the two countries.

    On Jan. 20, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said the military would pursue a missile defense system even if Russia claims it violates the ABM treaty. Clinton said yesterday it is "theoretically possible that we could develop a missile defense system that, either by its nature or by where it was deployed, would be a violation of the ABM treaty. I personally have told the Russians over and over again, I have no intention of abrogating the ABM treaty. Anything we do, we will do together."

    Clinton had cited North Korea when announcing his plans in January for a missile defense system. Yesterday, however, he said North Korea isn't the only concern.

    "It is a fact," he said, "that many countries with whom we have serious differences now are making vigorous efforts . . . either to build or to buy missiles with increasing ranges, that go distances far beyond anything that would be necessary to protect their own territory."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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