President Clinton took a final bow as he departed the stage at the G-8 summit today, rushing back to the United States to rejoin the work of another summit on peace in the Middle East.
He held up his hand, fingers crossed, just before he boarded Air Force One. His flight took off at 11:25 p.m. EDT (Saturday) for Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.
Braving a heavy shower on this subtropical island, Clinton and his daughter Chelsea shook hands with American servicemen and other well-wishers before boarding the plane at the U.S. Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa.
He was expected to touch down at 3:50 p.m. EDT this afternoon and board a helicopter immediately for Camp David, site of the talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
War Vs. Poverty
Before departing, Clinton and his summit partners issued a final communique which emphasizes new efforts to bring digital technology to the Third World, and a food-for-education program to encourage 9 million hungry children in poor countries to go to school for one meal a day.
This was the president’s final economic summit with the leaders of the industrialized world and he seemed genuinely nostalgic.
As the eight world leaders posed for a class picture, Clinton told them to “be serious.” When they teased he’d be back, Clinton answered, “not under our constitution.” At the final dinner, one colleague held high a glass, toasting Clinton’s years as president.
“To a great president of the United States and great leader of the free world,” said Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
It was a rare, poignant moment to finish off a day filled with talk of all things digital and a fair amount of controversy.
Since arriving Friday, Clinton has spent much of his time rushing through the paces of his last G-8 Summit promoting his pet theme of bridging the digital divide while trying to placate Okinawan citizens angry over the U.S. military presence here.
While the leaders did not exactly rename their meeting summit.com, they did create what they named a “DOT Force” — the “Digital Opportunity Task Force” — to bring the poorest nations into the digital technology mainstream.
American officials announced that 40 U.S. corporations and non-profit groups, including IBM, Andersen Consulting, and the Markle Foundation, will provide the needed expertise.
“Okinawa is shaping up to be the development summit,” said Lael Brainard, deputy national economic adviser to President Clinton, who is attending the summit with the leaders of Japan, Italy, Britain, Germany, France, Canada and Russia. “Clearly, they are sending a message to the world that all people should have access to basic education, modern technology and the tools to fight infectious diseases.”
The G-8 leaders also said governments should avoid regulating information technology too tightly, and they pledged protections for intellectual property rights in cyberspace. A report on this effort is to be presented at next year’s G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy.
It was nearly midnight in Okinawa as Clinton made stopped at one of the controversial military bases here. He decided to make the late-night stop after canceling a picnic with military families planned for this afternoon.
“I think you know that I have to leave early to try to go back to the peace talks at Camp David, on the Middle East. But now I will go back in the right frame of mind, since I spent the night with you,” he said to a round of cheers from the crowd.
A throng of American soldiers, sailors, marines and air force personnel crowded around to see their Commander in Chief up close. In the wake of several embarrassing incidents by military personnel in Okinawa, Clinton also urged the importance of good behavior.
“Each one of us has a personal obligation to do everything that we can to strengthen our friendship and to do nothing to harm it,” he said.
Japanese officials claim President Clinton personally apologized to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori during a private chat for the conduct of an unidentified 19-year-old American Marine, who was arrested this month for allegedly entering an Okinawan home and fondling a teenage girl as she slept in her own bed. The Marine had reportedly been drinking.
American spokesmen say the president did express his regrets.
Anger Over U.S. Military Presence
Japanese anger over the presence of American military forces here played out very publicly as the President arrived in Okinawa. As many as 27,000 protesters linked arms in a human chain around the largest airbase, demanding that the U.S. forces leave.
And President Clinton’s promise at a peace park ceremony that the United States will “reduce our footprint on this island” drew derision from the former governor of Okinawa.
“It betrayed my hopes,” Masahide Ota said of the president’s speech. “There was no change at all from previous comments.”
Word of North Korea Overture
During a series of one-on-one meetings with fellow leaders, President Clinton said the United States should explore a proposal brought from North Korea by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who stopped in North Korea on his was to Japan.
Putin told the summit that North Korea is willing to abandon its development of long range missiles if other countries will help it launch satellites. President Clinton said it is worth “exploring” the suggestion to find out exactly what North Korea is proposing.
Russia also was at the center of another summit development. Germany confirmed after a meeting between Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that it would reschedule $4 billion in loans it made to Russia. But Schroeder made it clear that loan forgiveness was not in the offing. “Russia is not a developing country. It is a world power,” Schroeder said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.