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President expresses grief for Kennedy; Hilary Clinton defers campaign trip

By Ann Scales, Globe Staff, 07/20/99

WASHINGTON - With John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife and sister-in-law presumed dead in a plane crash, President Clinton yesterday began openly grieving, saying the tragedy had been a ''very difficult thing'' for his family because of their closeness to the Kennedys.

Meanwhile, Hillary Rodham Clinton postponed a political trip to New York because of the accident. She was scheduled to begin a three-day swing today through Elmira, Bath, and Ithaca that was part of her summerlong ''listening tour'' in her expected run for a US Senate seat.

Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton's Senate exploratory committee, said that the trip would be rescheduled as soon as possible but that Mrs. Clinton did not feel up to it now.

Both Clintons have made calls to the only surviving member of Kennedy's immediate family, his sister, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and also to his uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. The president has spoken with Schlossberg twice and a half-dozen times with Senator Kennedy in the last three days.

After speaking with Schlossberg yesterday at noon, Clinton was briefed by Coast Guard Commandant James Loy and Coast Guard Rear Admiral Richard M. Larrabee about the search for the wreckage.

The president urged Larrabee to ''continue doing what he could to help find what they find, or some way to bring this to closure,'' said a White House spokesman, Jake Siewert.

The president, speaking at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel, said Larrabee was ''somewhat optimistic'' about the possibility of finding further wreckage from the plane that carried Kennedy, his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her older sister Lauren Bessette.

''I believe it's appropriate that this search continue,'' Clinton told reporters, adding that he thought the Coast Guard and other local, state, and federal agencies had done ''a good job.''

White House officials said Clinton learned only a short time before the rest of the nation Sunday night that federal authorities had given up searching for survivors and presumed all three passengers on the plane were dead.

Speaking off the cuff, Clinton appeared moved as he said: ''Let me say that John Kennedy and his sister and later his wife were uncommonly kind to my daughter and to my wife. And this has been a very difficult thing for us personally, as well as because of my position.''

He added about the Kennedy family, ''They are very strong people, and I think they're carrying on as well as any human beings could, but they need the support and prayers of our country.''

Barak, standing beside Clinton, said on behalf of himself and the Israeli people, ''Our prayers and thoughts to the Kennedy family that faced so many tragedies and now is facing another one, a tragedy that I believe touched hearts of billions all around the world.''

Clinton and Barak both offered prayers for the Kennedy and Bessette families in their toasts Sunday during a White House dinner.

Earlier yesterday while honoring the US women's soccer team for winning the World Cup, Clinton linked the celebration of the women's win with the sadness of the Kennedy and Bessette deaths.

''It is at times like this that we really stop to recognize that as big and diverse as our country is, we can come together as a national family. We can come together in our sorrow or in joy, if it reflects the values that we honor most,'' he said.

Vice President Al Gore, who also was present, said, ''If the Kennedy family has stood for any one ideal above all others, it is that each of us, by the work of our own hands and hearts, can make a contributon and a difference.''

This story ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 07/20/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.


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