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Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Clinton comes up empty
on peacemaking trip

Bullet The issue: President Clinton has little to show for his visits to Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and a talk with Syrian President Hafez Assad.
Bullet Our view: Clinton is trying to achieve breakthroughs in peacemaking but time is running out on his presidency.

AS the clock winds down on his presidency, Bill Clinton seems to be getting frantic in his attempts to establish a legacy beyond his sordid affair with Monica Lewinsky. His trip to South Asia, followed by an encounter with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Geneva, was a transparent effort to that end.

But there is no indication that the trip produced anything more lasting than a couple of days' newspaper headlines and television reports. In Bangladesh, Clinton had to cancel a trip to a village that could have exposed him to terrorist attack. In Pakistan, his visit was limited to a scant six hours and extraordinary security measures were taken, including use of a decoy plane, to protect him.

In both India and Pakistan, Clinton's appeals for abandonment of nuclear weapons and for a renunciation of force in the Kashmir dispute were rejected summarily.

Then, to cap the president's humiliation, he spent three hours with Assad trying in vain to persuade the Syrian dictator to resume negotiations with Israel that were launched with much fanfare last year in West Virginia.

Probably the most significant result of Clinton's efforts is improved relations with India after decades of virtual estrangement during the Cold War, in which New Delhi was aligned with the Soviets and Pakistan with Washington.

Clinton spent five days in India and only hours in Pakistan -- a reflection of his administration's estimate of the two countries' relative importance. He might have passed up Pakistan altogether, because his admonitions only seemed to heighten resentment of the United States.

With the Cold War ended, Washington sees no reason to continue to overlook Pakistan's corruption and attempts to take Kashmir by force, which have led Clinton to describe South Asia as probably the most dangerous area in the world. Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, says he still wants the United States to mediate the Kashmir dispute, but India will have none of it.

With only months remaining in his term, Clinton hopes to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and Syria. Not coincidentally, the final status talks between the Israelis and Palestinians are scheduled for completion this year but whether the negotiators will succeed is highly uncertain. The outlook for the Israeli-Syrian talks is worse.

Meanwhile the accords stemming from Clinton's peace efforts in Northern Ireland are unraveling as the Irish Republican Army refuses to surrender its weapons.

One problem Clinton faces is that the people involved in these disputes don't share his need to reach agreement before his term ends. A peacemaker needs patience but Clinton doesn't have the time to be patient.

Reasonable searches

Bullet The issue: The Supreme Court held that police must have supporting evidence in most cases before conducting searches based on anonymous tips.
Bullet Our view: The ruling means simply that police must exercise sound judgment in evaluating tips before acting on them.

ANONYMOUS tips to police are a valuable source of information and can be a deterrent to crime, if true. Police must evaluate such tips before acting on them. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such judgments in most cases should not be made without evidence of the tips' credibility. While the court's decision may be viewed as vague, it essentially requires that police use common sense.

The case before the court involved an anonymous tip to Miami police that a 16-year-old youth waiting at a bus stop with two other youths was carrying a concealed gun.

Lacking any other information except that the allegedly gun-toting youth was the one wearing a plaid shirt, police went to the bus stop, frisked the youth and seized the gun from the youth's pocket. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and underage possession of a firearm.

The high court has ruled in the past that police may conduct searches only when they reasonably believe criminal activity may be afoot.

In a 1990 case, the court held that police were justified in searching a woman for cocaine based on a tip that she was carrying the drug. The tip was made credible by the informant's accurate prediction that the woman would leave an apartment building at a certain time, get into a car described by the informant and drive to a certain motel.

Such corroboration was lacking prior to the Miami search, which the high court ruled to be an illegal infringement on the youth's constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court rejected the government's argument that the standard for conducting searches be modified to allow a "firearm exception" because of the potential danger involved. Such an exception would allow anybody "to set in motion an intrusive, embarrassing police search" to harass somebody else simply by placing an anonymous call to police, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the court's unanimous opinion.

The court did allow an exception to acting on a tip that a person is carrying a bomb. And it allowed exceptions in places like airports where there is a diminished expectation of privacy.

This is an area where it is difficult to avoid abuses. Police must do their best in evaluating anonymous tips before taking action.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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