March 9, 1999
Clinton touting peaceful use of U.S. military in Central America

                  SAN SALVADOR (AP) -- President Clinton is saluting a "new" Central
                  America and highlighting the relief work of American troops here, meant to
                  shut the door forever on the dark side of U.S. military involvement in the region.

                  "We come to see what we can do together to help you rebuild" after Hurricane
                  Mitch, Clinton said in greeting Salvadoran President Armando Calderon Sol
                  at San Salvador's Compala International Airport on Monday night. "The
                  problems of the future are our shared problems. The promise of the future is
                  our shared promise."

                  Clinton was flying to Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras today to underscore
                  a new, constructive partnership between the United States and its neighbors
                  to the South.

                  The president planned a little schmoozing in the mess hall before addressing
                  some of the 520 American personnel who reside on base with 800

                  From there, he was visiting Tegucigalpa's Juan Molina Bridge, wiped out by
                  Mitch and restored by 50 Marines in a week last month.

                  Emphasizing the positive, he glossed over sore spots in the U.S. relationship
                  with Central America, namely trade and immigration. And today, as he
                  outlined a stopgap $25 million in U.S. aid to Honduras -- the worst hit by
                  last fall's storms -- Clinton was to make a detailed argument for the $956
                  million aid package held up in Congress by unrelated political issues.

                  The United States has maintained a military presence in Honduras -- around
                  500 personnel -- since 1984 when it set up shop to support the Contras and
                  other non-communist insurgents in Central America's bloody civil wars.

                  'Common commitment to democracy'

                  On the first of his four days traveling the region and surveying the aftermath
                  of Mitch, Clinton said work remained to undo the legacy of the 1980s, when
                  the United States was perceived here as meddlesome -- or worse.

                  "In times past, there was conflict, turbulence and distrust," Clinton told
                  Nicaraguans on Monday near the mudslide-ravaged town of Posoltega. "But
                  now we are bound together in our common commitment to democracy."

                  Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman said it has helped that U.S. troops
                  -- 5,300 at peak deployment -- swept into Central America so soon after
                  Mitch to pluck survivors from mud and floodwaters, then stayed to rebuild
                  a country that U.S. forces had occupied from 1909 to 1925.

                  "The hands of friends, the hands of U.S. soldiers have been with us and
                  have left their mark on the works and the roads that we Nicaraguans can
                  now walk once again," Aleman said.

                  While Clinton promised Central America nearly $1 billion in hurricane
                  reconstruction help, partisan fights stalled the money on Capitol Hill.
                  Republicans are demanding that Clinton offset the reconstruction aid through
                  reductions in food stamps and welfare assistance.

                  Clinton told reporters he would, when he returned to Washington, work with
                  House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, to untangle the legislation. "It
                  doesn't have anything to do with the merits" of the bill, Clinton said. "That's

                  Honduran aid package

                  Meanwhile, he was to announce today an immediate package for Honduras,
                  which sustained an estimated $3.4 billion in storm damage, including nearly
                  83,000 homes destroyed.

                  The funds from the Agency for International Development budget will go
                  largely toward restoring water systems, getting small businesses running
                  again, preventing the spread of cholera and diarrhea, and ensuring
                  environmental responsibility as Hondurans rebuild along the coast.

                  On immigration, Clinton said only that he would seek "a fair solution" to
                  problems exacerbated by the disaster. A temporary halt in deportations of
                  Guatemalans and Salvadorans in the United States lapsed on Monday.
                  Calderon had asked for more time to get the region on its feet before any
                  return of illegal immigrants.

                  Clinton told reporters the resumption of deportations "shouldn't affect too
                  many people in the early going" and he questioned whether he had any legal
                  authority to extend the halt.

                  Last year, 15,000 illegal immigrants were returned to Guatemala, Nicaragua,
                  El Salvador and Honduras combined, Immigration and Naturalization
                  Service Commissioner Doris Meissner said. She expected that the expiration
                  of the stay on deportations would affect less than 5,000 Guatemalans and
                  Salvadorans this year.

                           Copyright 1999   The Associated Press. All rights reserved.