Clinton finishes European victory lap with plea for the poor

COVENTRY, England - President Clinton bade farewell to Europe Thursday with a call for the world's nations to launch a sincere, unified effort to uplift the desperately poor. ''We have both the ability and the responsibility to make a great deal of difference,'' he said.

Clinton characterized his visit to Britain, the final leg of a three-day European swing, as his final one as president. He started his goodbyes with a morning audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, sharing coffee, tea, cookies and his desire for a golf rematch with her son, Prince Andrew.

The visit came after Clinton made the rounds through Ireland and Northern Ireland to offer support for the flagging peace process there. While he spent the previous two days stressing the importance of maintaining peace in Northern Ireland, Clinton reached Thursday for broader themes.

''We have seen how abject poverty accelerates turmoil and conflict,'' Clinton said. ''How it creates recruits for terrorists and those who incite ethnic and religious hatred. How it fuels the violent rejection of the open economic and social order upon which our future depends. ... The more we help the rest of the world, the better it will be for us.''

In his absence, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the protracted legal fight over the presidential election. Sitting up late at the country home of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Clinton watched on television as his vice president conceded to President-elect Bush.

The president then pledged his support to his successor Thursday morning. Wasting no time, he contacted Bush by telephone and arranged a meeting next week.

''I wish President-elect Bush well,'' Clinton said. ''Like him, I came to Washington as a governor, eager to work with both Republicans and Democrats. And when we reached across party lines to forge a vital center, America was stronger at home and abroad.''

The president also cheered Russia's pardon of American businessman Edmond Pope, who was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The United States wanted a humanitarian release for Pope, who suffers from a rare form of bone cancer, and Russia obliged.

''Mr. Pope's ordeal was unjustified,'' Clinton said. ''It is important that humanitarian concerns prevailed in the end.''

Before an audience of 1,200 at the University of Warwick, the president argued that the most prosperous countries should work harder to eliminate poverty and its aftereffects: disease, malnutrition, illiteracy and loss of human potential. One of his most fervent wishes as he leaves office is that the global community would agree to take up this cause, he said.

''Globalization need not benefit only the advanced nations,'' Clinton said. ''Indeed, in developing countries too, it brings the promise but not the guarantee of a better future.''

He also bemoaned the fact that by 2010, there would be Internet access for 72 percent of the people living in the top eight economies in the Asian Pacific region, but only 4 percent of those living in the bottom 11 economies.

''If that happens, the global economy really will resemble a worldwide web, a bunch of interlocking strands with huge holes in between,'' Clinton said.

Clinton said poverty could be fought worldwide by providing debt relief for poor countries; improving health systems so countries can better fight AIDS and other infectious diseases; closing the ''digital divide''; and ensuring that the world's children receive quality education, have access to nutrition programs at school and are no longer subject to abusive child labor practices.

''We know very well today how children live and die in the poorest countries and how little it would take to improve their lives,'' Clinton said. ''We can choose not to act but we can no longer choose not to know.''

But in turn, developing countries also must ''be less resistant'' to international calls for improved human rights, labor rights and environmental protections, ''so that spirited economic competition does not become a race to the bottom,'' he said.

The White House said Clinton's speech was one in a series he will make as he exits the White House. But they refused to call it his final foreign policy speech, noting that he maintains an interest in going to North Korea before leaving office Jan. 20.

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