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VFW Told To Keep U.S. Strong

Saying "America must still be engaged in the world," President Clinton sought veterans' help in pressing Congress to fully finance major items on his foreign policy agenda.

Mr. Clinton addressed the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Monday, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. He said the VFW's life span covers a century of wars that repeatedly proved the United States must maintain positive relations with other nations of the world.

"We cannot assume that, because we are today secure and at peace, we don't need military strength or alliances, or that because we are today prosperous, we are immune from turmoil half a world away," Mr. Clinton said. "America must still be engaged in the world, working with others to advance peace and prosperity, freedom and security. And America must remain strong."

Mr. Clinton said his administration is working diligently to address the needs of veterans, from health care to homelessness. He said he wants to work "with equal determination" to prevent future wars, but to do that, U.S. diplomacy and military readiness must have sufficient resources.

"We know if diplomacy is not backed by real, credible threats of force, it can be empty, indeed dangerous," the president said. "But if we don't use diplomacy first to promote our interests, if we rely on our military as our only line of defense, it almost certainly will become our only line of defense."

He appealed specifically for Congress to fund the Wye River peace accord reached last year, saying the United States has a responsibility to do all it can to prevent war in the Middle East.

The president also appealed for full financing of initiatives to reduce nuclear arsenals and promote conflict resolution in Africa.

The House has approved a foreign operations budget of $12.7 billion for the 2000 fiscal year, about $2 billion less than Mr. Clinton requested.

Some veterans had said they would boycott the president's speech because he avoided military service in Vietnam and because of his record in office.

"I think he's a draft-dodger!" one man told CBS News Radio.

However, other members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars said they wanted to hear what Mr. Clinton has to say.

"He's still the commander-in-chief, regardless of what he's done in his personal life," one woman said.

Mr. Clinton received a warm reception and there were no noisy protests in the convention hall.

Key issues at this year's convention include long-term care for veterans and an increase in the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs, both due to the number of rapidly aging veterans from World War II and the Korean War.

The VFW is seeking a congressional sponsor for a new GI Bill for current service members and is pushing for larger defense budgets and an increase in military readiness.

The VFW has about 2 million members and is the second-largest veterans' organizaton, after the American Legion. About 30,000 people were expected at the convention.

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