WASHINGTON -- With just a few weeks before a vote, President Clinton has invited two former presidents and top officials from past administrations to the White House to help him twist the arms of congressmen who remain undecided about granting permanent normal trade relations to China.
Presidents Ford and Carter were to join Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in the East Room today to rally support for the landmark trade legislation, which would ease the Asian nation's entrance into the World Trade Organization.
Former secretaries of state, including Henry Kissinger, and past national security advisers also were to stand with the president. And the Democratic Leadership Council planned to hand Clinton a national petition signed by more than 140 state and local elected leaders who support normal trade with China.
At a fund-raiser Monday night for Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., in Bethesda, Md., Clinton said failing to pass the measure would have a negative effect on national security and could heighten tension between China and Taiwan.
''China is the biggest country in the world and in somewhere between 30 and 50 years it will have the biggest economy, unless India outstrips them, which is conceivable,'' Clinton said. ''And when that happens, are we going to have a working relationship with them, or is there going to be a new cold war?''
On Monday, Clinton got key support from three former presidents and a highly respected Republican economist, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
The White House released a letter signed by Ford, Carter and President Bush pledging their unified support for normal trade relations status for China.
''In economic terms, the case is clear,'' the former presidents wrote in an open letter. ''The agreement to bring China into the WTO is the product of more than 13 years of tough negotiations conducted by four administrations, Democratic and Republican.''
Greenspan pledged support for the measure, saying China's membership in the WTO would promote economic development, reduce poverty in China and push the nation to offer more individual rights for its 1 billion people.
The Clinton administration, Republican leaders and U.S. business groups have been lobbying lawmakers for weeks to get the legislation passed. If the House approves the measure in a vote expected the week of May 22, Senate passage is likely.
The two top House Democratic leaders oppose the legislation, suggesting it will hurt U.S. jobs.
Gore's support of the legislation has left his presidential campaign at odds with some labor leaders who oppose it. The vice president says organized labor is split on the issue.
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