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Clinton And Prodi Play Nice

Offering his regrets for "a horrible human tragedy," President Clinton Wednesday promised justice for February's the Marine jet accident that killed 20 skiers in the Italian Alps.

Following his White House meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Mr. Clinton said the United States would continue its efforts to determine who was responsible for the accident.

"My regret is profound," Mr. Clinton said. "I cannot bring back the people who perished. But I will do my best to make sure we behave in a completely honorable way, and a way that is completely consistent with the commitments we have made."

Prodi said he received "a very warm and prompt response to the problem" from Mr. Clinton, but he withheld judgment on the way U.S. officials are handling it and on the actions of the crew members involved.

"I am waiting for the future development of the case, but I've seen deep involvement of the American political authorities," Prodi said.

Earlier Wednesday, in a splashy ceremony formally welcoming Prodi, Mr. Clinton made only passing references to United States troops in Italy - first to note that U.S. personnel from the Aviano air base were assisting in rescue efforts after lethal rainstorms in southern Italy this week; and second, to thank Italians for their "hospitality toward United States forces working to preserve peace in Europe."

The two leaders also discussed Italy's role in negotiations to create a common European currency, which Mr. Clinton praised as a positive step for unifying the continent and the unrest in Kosovo.

Although Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia, Albanians make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo's population, and most of them want independence. More than 150 people have died in a two-month crackdown on ethnic Albanian militants.

Mr. Clinton said the United States "must and will be ready to substantially turn up the pressure on Belgrade" to begin talking peace.

Prodi said he wanted to pursue through the European Union a "vast sphere of free trade" between the United States and Europe "not only to best utilize our energy and to strengthen as much as possible our political and economic ties, but also as a common contribution to the global trade liberalization."

A White House official, speaking Tuesday on condition of anonymity, said the president wants to feel out Prodi on matters such as international crime, global climate change and policy toward Kosovo and the Middle East. Mr. Clinton also was to update Prodi on his recent six-nation tour of Africa and ways to encourage development there, the official said.

WRITTEN BY SONYA ROSS