Originally created 09/13/99

Asian-Pacific leaders confront Y2K issue



AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Asian and Pacific heads of state began their first full session of meetings Sunday by tackling a profound philosophical question: when to celebrate the new millennium.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, briefing reporters afterward, said a lively discussion ensued over whether the celebration should come on Jan. 1, 2000 -- or a year later.

Calendar purists contend that the 21st century does not begin until Jan. 1, 2001. But politicians are seldom known for embracing purism.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, the host for this year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, noted her island nation would be celebrating the millennium first, no matter when it began, due to its relative proximity to the international date line.

She offered "to report" to the others on when the millennium arrived.

"After some discussion, I think the leaders came to the conclusion that since their public, to which they all like to be attuned, will be celebrating in 2000, they will start celebrating in 2000," Lockhart said.

"And that was the conclusion of that philosophical debate," he said.

Did President Clinton take a position?

"I think the president was in a category shared by some others that thought 2000 was right because they'd still be in office," Lockhart said.

After some laughter, Lockhart amended his remarks: "Although the president will be in office in 2001. I do understand that."

Clinton's term runs through Jan. 20, 2001.

The 2000 APEC meeting will be in Brunei, where leaders may want to take another crack at the issue.

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President Clinton's first meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin did not exactly come off exactly like clockwork.

Clinton was to "greet" Putin publicly in the lobby of Auckland's Stamford Plaza Hotel, where the American delegation has been staying. A black backdrop was set up in the corner of the hotel lobby for the handshake.

Putin and his entourage came in -- and disappeared behind the backdrop.

Clinton entered from the other side and stood in front of the backdrop and an American and a Russian flag.

"Hello everyone," Clinton said to assembled reporters and photographers. He looked around. A few awkward moments followed. "Where is he?" Clinton muttered, as if to himself.

After a few seconds, Putin emerged from behind the backdrop and took his proper place. "Nice to meet you. Welcome," Clinton said.