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World - Africa

First lady and daughter begin North Africa tour in Cairo

Official visit aims to bolster U.S. ties in region

Hillary and Chelsea

March 21, 1999
Web posted at: 9:55 a.m. EST (1455 GMT)


In this story:

Exotic vacation, serious themes

Hillary Clinton: 'Role model'

No word on Senate candidacy

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- American First Lady Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, arrived in Cairo Sunday for the start of a 12-day tour of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

"I am here on behalf of my husband and of the American people to strengthen the bonds of friendship and partnership between our two countries, deepen our dialogue and to see first-hand how Egyptians are moving toward the future while preserving their extraordinary culture," Mrs. Clinton said in an official statement.

She added that she was pleased to be in Egypt for the 20th anniversary of an historic peace treaty -- the Camp David accords -- signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin at the White House in March of 1979.

The trip got off to a rocky start when the Clintons' departure from Andrew Air Force Base was delayed, first because of overloading of the plane and then due to a problem with the hydraulic compressor. Mechanics fixed the mechanical problem in less than an hour, and the Boeing 707 took off Saturday evening.

Mother and daughter plan to combine business with pleasure during the spring-break trip.

"For too long, our close ties with the Arab world have been compromised by negative stereotyping on both sides," Hillary Clinton said. "It is my hope that this trip will help strengthen the bonds of friendship among our nations."

The first lady hopes to "reinforce the message that the president has been sending to the Islamic world, of respect for Islam and our belief that there is no clash of civilizations between Islam and the West," a senior State Department official said.

"Her ability to convey that in a very personal way is going to be very important on this trip," the official said.

The populations of the three North African countries on her agenda total nearly half of all Arabs. Relations between the United States and some Arab states have been strained since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

To many Americans, Arabs are "all bandits, bombers and billionaires," said Wallace Sanders, development director for the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. He said he is counting on Mrs. Clinton to "disseminate the truth."

Exotic vacation, serious themes

During the trip, Mrs. Clinton will make speeches, meet with foreign dignitaries and visit sites associated with promoting women's and children's rights, religious tolerance and democracy.

She planned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Tunisia's good record of educating women and girls, and Morocco's experiment with political pluralism and religious tolerance.

Still, aides and administration officials stressed that her meetings with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Morocco's King Hassan II and Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi were courtesy calls, "not to negotiate Middle East peace."

Officials from the White House National Security Council, State Department, three U.S. embassies and three foreign governments were marshaled in service to the mother-daughter tradition of making Chelsea's spring break from college an exotic adventure combined with U.S. foreign policy. Chelsea is a sophomore at Stanford University.

Official appearances were to be tied to sightseeing excursions:

An address on peace and religious tolerance will follow two days of touring the alabaster mosque of Muhammad Ali within the walls of Islamic Cairo's citadel; viewing Old Testament scrolls in Ben-Ezra Synagogue, Egypt's oldest; and visiting the nearby Coptic Museum and other sites of Egypt's minority Christian community.

A women's rights speech at Tunisia's parliament building, where women hold 7 percent of the seats, is tucked among stops at the half-ruined El Djem coliseum, where women in the Roman era watched gladiators from segregated seating, and at a modern family-planning clinic.

Mrs. Clinton travels to Tunisia on Thursday and to Morocco on March 27. She returns to Washington on April 1.

The trip will not include stops in Israel and Jordan as originally planned. Diplomatic sensitivities to the upcoming Israeli elections and mourning over Jordan's King Hussein forced postponement of both visits until later this year, Mrs. Clinton said.

Hillary Clinton: 'Role model'

In 1995, the Clintons' mother-daughter crusade to boost the status of women and children swept through southeast Asia. When Chelsea, now 19, was on spring break the next year, they dropped in on U.S. troops in Germany, Bosnia, Italy, Turkey and Greece. In 1997, the pair dazzled sub-Saharan Africans with a six-nation swing laying ground for the president's trip to the continent last year.

The first lady's twin themes are human rights and the vitality of U.S. foreign aid despite its political unpopularity in Congress. As Brian Atwood, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told Mrs. Clinton last week: "More than anyone, you have helped us tell our story."

During her husband's six years in the White House, Mrs. Clinton has visited 75 nations, venturing to corners as far-flung as Katmandu, Nepal, and Ulan Bator, Mongolia. This week's trip is her 19th overseas journey without President Clinton.

"In Mrs. Clinton, women all over the world have a friend and role model," said Edith Grace Ssempala, Uganda's ambassador to the United States. "This first lady has eloquently spoken to the needs of every human being."

No word on Senate candidacy

Mrs. Clinton is not expected to announce a decision on her political future, although there is little doubt that reporters will continue to ask about her possible Senate candidacy.

On Friday, President Clinton said he did not "have a clue" whether his wife would run for a Senate seat out of New York.


RELATED STORIES:
Hillary Clinton meets with New York Democratic leader
March 12, 1999
Hillary Clinton associates believe she will run for Senate in 2000
March 12, 1999

RELATED SITES:
National Council on US-Arab Relations
Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty
Egypt State Information Service
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