Presidents, prime ministers and dignitaries from a dozen countries gathered in Oslo this week, but to judge from the Norwegian media, you'd think there was only one man in town: Bill Clinton.
Newspapers and TV networks here have focused almost totally on the president since Air Force One touched down here early Monday--with the arrival covered live on every channel. Since then, the media have provided inordinately detailed coverage of the first visit by a U.S. president in Norway's history.
The papers have reported what Clinton wore (three different ties in one day!); what he drank (Diet Coke); what he read (Sue Grafton's " 'O' Is for Outlaw," spotted on his lap in the limousine); and how long he shook the hand of fourth-grade teacher Ingeborg Heldal (so long that she "blushed brighter than ever before in her life," according to the tabloid newspaper Verdens Gang).
Two of the three national TV networks provided live coverage of the president all day Monday. This was not as easy as it might sound, because Clinton spent much of the day in closed-door meetings. The networks filled the time by broadcasting live pictures of his waiting limousine.
All the papers agreed on the single adjective that best described the visiting American: sjarmerende, or "charming." And the presidential charm apparently made up for another Clinton attribute--chronic tardiness--that is not so highly regarded in a society in which people pride themselves on punctuality.
"Tardy Bill," scolded the headline today in the newspaper Dagbladet. "He kept the prime minister waiting half an hour. He kept the king and queen waiting 10 minutes at the Royal Palace. He was even late for the state dinner. But his charm overcame all the problems."
The other international VIPs who gathered here for Norway's memorial ceremony in honor of Yitzak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated in 1995, may not have been charmed by the intense focus on Clinton. Dagbladet, for example, ran 21 pictures of Clinton on its first 13 pages today--compared with a meager one apiece for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
To a degree, this kind of response is standard operating procedure for any U.S. president in almost any country. People everywhere are fixated on the military, political and cultural might of the only remaining superpower. And Norway may be even more smitten than other places, because virtually every Norwegian family has relatives in the United States.
But the intense response to Clinton's visit also says something about this particular president. Clinton's impeachment and his history of sex scandals makes him an object of fascination wherever he travels.
Thus, it was probably inevitable that the Norwegian media would come upon something during this week's visit to remind them of last year's White House turmoil. Sure enough, they found it Monday when the president shook hands for a second or two outside the royal palace with Heldal, the 26-year-old teacher--a woman whom Verdens Gang described as a "Monica Lewinsky look-alike."
"A pretty, dark-haired girl in the crowd catches the president's eye and extends a hand to him," the newspaper said. "Haven't we seen something like this before?"
CAPTION: Clinton greets Russian Premier Putin in Oslo, where the president overshadowed other leaders.