Wednesday, January 12, 1994
Section: NEWS

Whether joshing with fellow NATO leaders or announcing major agreements, President Bill Clinton is a big hit in Europe. Make that William J. Clinton, which the Europeans are calling him even though he does not use that formal name.

Several leaders at the NATO meeting that ended Tuesday were effusive in their praise of Clinton.

Outside, Belgians in cowboy hats waited for hours hoping for a glimpse of the president. And Europe's press, only weeks after partisan coverage of trans-Atlantic trade battles, treated Clinton like a show-biz star.

"Clinton Steals Show in Brussels," headlined the largest Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf. "Clinton Seduces the Europeans," said Liberation, a trendy French daily. Italy's La Repubblica said, "Albeit with a few slip-ups, the `American kid,' by now with a gray tuft of hair, has passed the test."

The German media focused heavily on Clinton's jovial greeting of their portly chancellor, Helmut Klohl.

"I was thinking of you last night, Helmut, because I watched the sumo wrestling on television," Clinton told Kohl, who appeared puzzled.

But Kohl saluted Clinton as the embodiment of a fresh-thinking postwar generation that welcomes more European unity.

"He acts and reacts in meetings without being surrounded by a big crowd of advisers," Kohl said. And the German leader said that U.S. officials, for the first time, seemed to be trying to understand the Russians' psychology and avoid hurting their pride.

French President Francois Mitterrand, whose country perennially spars with the United States over everything from trade to TV shows, found little ground for disagreement during a chat with Clinton, aides said. Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers described the U.S. leader as "friendly, courteous and very clear in his statements."

One of the few negative notes was sounded by Britain's Daily Mail, a conservative tabloid that said Clinton "had trampled on the ashes of the once-vaunted `special relationship' between Washington and London. He pledged U.S. commitment to a united Europe that sounded suspiciously like the superstate of French dreams."

Newspapers delighted in accounts of Clinton's breaks in the formality in Brussels: an early-morning jog around the lake in the Bois de la Cambre, a small park near his hotel; impromptu strolls through old quarters of the city; and a half-hour visit with patrons of the Cafe Au Vieux St. Martin.

Libre Belgique, a Brussels daily, described how throngs of Belgians joined American expatriates waiting outside city hall Sunday night for a glimpse of Clinton.

"Fans of America, and by definition of Bill Clinton, they wore their best outfits: sneakers, cowboy hats and flannel shirts, and camped out on the pavement to see `their' president," the newspaper wrote.