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Clinton Sounds Warning Bell

President Clinton on Monday called the current global economic crisis the "biggest financial challenge facing the world in a half century" and urged the industrial nations to adopt a coordinated strategy to boost growth.

"The leading economic nations must act together to spur global growth," the president said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Making no reference to the sex scandal plaguing his presidency, Mr. Clinton said that while inflation had been a major threat to the United States and other industrial countries for three decades, the biggest threat now is spreading economic weakness that has a third of the world already in recession.

"The balance of risks has now shifted with a full quarter of the world's populations now living in countries with negative economic growth," Mr. Clinton said.

President Clinton said he had asked Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to convene discussions with their counterparts in the next 30 days to grapple with the widening crisis.

Mr. Clinton's remarks came on a day when Wall Street and many foreign markets were already posting strong rebounds. The Dow Jones industrial average was up more than 200 points before the president began his remarks.

Underscoring the threat to the global economy, the president repeated a warning made by Greenspan a week ago that it was unlikely the United States can remain "an oasis of prosperity" in the ever-widening financial turmoil.

Greenspan, in that speech, signaled that the Federal Reserve stood ready to lower U.S. interest rates should the deepening global crisis threaten to push the United States into a recession.

Mr. Clinton did not specifically say that he would like to see U.S. interest rates lower. But he suggested that would be a desirable outcome by calling for all major countries to do their part to spur global growth.

"This is the biggest financial challenge facing the world in a half century. The United States has an inescapable obligation to lead and to lead in a way that is consistent with our values and to see that what we are doing helps to lift the lives of people all around the world," Mr. Clinton said.

Last week, the financial crisis shook markets in Brazil and other Latin American countries. President Clinton said the world's richest industrial countries stood ready to tap a $15 billion emergency fund if needed to stabilize market situations in Latin America.

The president said the risk was not just to people's living standards around the globe but also to their personal freedoms.

"It is clear to me that there is now a stark challenge not only to economic freedom but a challenge that if unaddressed could stem the rising tide of political liberty as well," Mr. Clinton said.

He called on Congress to provide the $18 billion he has requested to replenish the deplete resources of the International Monetary Fund, which has assembled more than $100 billion in bailout packages for hard-hit Asian countries and Russia.

Explaining why the United States should care about what happens in the rest of the world, President Clinton noted that 30 percent of the United States' economic growth since he became president has been due to trade with overseas countries. "That's why ordinary Americans should care if Asia or Russia or South America are on solid economic footing. These people are our customers."

Written by Martin Crutsinger