Monday, June 21, 2004

Regrets? Clinton had a few

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - For Bill Clinton, his greatest failures as president have nothing to do with the scandal over his affair with a White House intern.

"I'm sorry on the home front that we didn't get health care and that we didn't reform Social Security," the former president told CBS' 60 Minutes in an interview aired Sunday.

In international affairs, Clinton said he regrets he wasn't able to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to make peace and that he "didn't succeed in getting Osama bin Laden."

He gave the interview in advance of Tuesday's release of his 957-page memoir, My Life.

On the Middle East, Clinton placed the blame for the collapse of his efforts to broker a peace deal squarely on the shoulders of Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian leader refused to accept formulas for peace that Clinton offered in late 2000.

"This was an error of historic proportions," Clinton said.

Clinton recalled a lighter moment seven years earlier just before the signing of the Oslo peace accords.

Clinton had told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that he would have to shake Arafat's hand. Rabin begrudgingly agreed, saying: "All right. But no kissing."

So, Clinton said, he and national security adviser Tony Lake found themselves practicing at being Rabin and Arafat to figure out how to keep Rabin from receiving the traditional Arab greeting of a kiss on the cheek. They eventually found a way, leading to a historic handshake at the White House.

The former president said his worst day in the White House came when he had to tell his wife, Hillary, about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

"I had a sleepless night and woke her up and sat down on the side of the bed and just told her," he said. "It was awful."

Clinton discussed other highs and lows:

• When asked about some of the not-so-flattering nicknames ascribed to the former president, Clinton said he most dislikes "Slick Willy." "No one could fairly look at my political life and say I didn't believe in anything."

• Clinton said he wished he had never said he had tried marijuana but didn't inhale, even though he maintains it's true. "I really tried to inhale. I was incapable of inhaling."

• Clinton said he's had second thoughts about his controversial last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, the ex-husband of Democratic donor Denise Rich. But on the merits, he said, "Nobody's yet made a case to me that it was the wrong decision."

• The high school graduation for daughter Chelsea was one of his finest days in the White House. "When I saw what she had become ... that's probably the best day."

In an interview with Der Spiegel newsweekly released earlier Sunday, Clinton said that it will take at least five years before Iraq becomes a stable and secure country.

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