Former President Bill Clinton has pledged to devote whatever time and energy it takes to do his job as special United Nations envoy to countries hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami. Mr. Clinton declared himself in good health as he came to U.N. headquarters to take up his new assignment.
The former president showed no signs of his recent illness as he bantered with reporters about his new role as Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for tsunami-affected countries.
Mr. Clinton said he plans to spend a significant amount of time on the job, including a trip to the region in the next few weeks. "My health is restored, my doctors specifically said … that I'm now free to engage in any activity that I feel strong enough to undertake, but that I should expect it to take two to four to five weeks before my entire stamina has returned, so I'm gonna spend whatever time it takes," he said.
Mr. Clinton's health, and an earlier commitment to serve with former President George H.W. Bush as co-chairmen of a private U.S. fundraising campaign for tsunami victims, had prevented him from taking up the U.N. post until nearly 100 days after the disaster struck.
Secretary-General Annan said he was not disappointed at having to wait.
"I think you will all agree that President Clinton is so obviously the right person for this job that it was worth waiting a few weeks to get him on board," he said.
Mr. Clinton returned the compliment, and offered a strong statement of support for the embattled secretary-general, when asked if he might like to head the world body when Mr. Annan's term ends next year.
"In terms of the other job, I support the secretary-general we have. I like him, I admire him, I think he's doing a good job, and I like the job I have, and so I'm gonna do the job I've got, which includes now a job for him. I'm his employee, it would be unseemly to be anything else right now," he said.
Mr. Clinton said he was pleased with the response of individual Americans to the tsunami disaster. He said private U.S. donations of between $750 million and one billion dollars, on top of government aid, had done much to improve the U.S. approval rating in tsunami-hit countries such as Indonesia.
"People saw America whole, if you will, they saw us as people, in Indonesia and other countries when as people we related to them… We live in a world where we're going to have religious and political and ethnic differences, we're going to have conflicts, but in an interdependent world, no nation is big or strong enough to occupy, jail or dispose of all of its adversaries or potential adversaries, so every country, even the biggest one should be trying to build a world with more friends and more partners and fewer enemies, but the way to do that is not to worry about your image, the way to do that is to worry about your reality and then trust people to let the image reflect the reality," he said.
The former president said he accepted the job as U.N. envoy because he believes the world has an obligation to help when a tragedy hits of the magnitude of the Indian Ocean tsunami. He expressed hope that the tsunami relief effort could serve as a guide for organizing responses to future disasters.
"We have to learn from what has been done from what we're doing now and come up with a set of best practices for how we should have an early warning system, how we should mitigate the disasters that do occur, how we should manage those that occur, and how we should deal with the kinds of challenges we face here," he said.
Mr. Clinton refused to speculate on how long he might stay on as envoy. He said he would measure his tenure in terms of results, and would stay as long as it takes to achieve the objectives set out by his new boss, Secretary-General Annan.