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CLINTON WILL BE THE GREAT HOPE - BY DEFAULT - OF TOKYO SUMMIT

SHARE CLINTON WILL BE THE GREAT HOPE - BY DEFAULT - OF TOKYO SUMMIT

President Clinton will be one of the new kids on the block at the economic summit in Tokyo, but he has the best toys and more of them so he'll be the most popular.

Every July, the leaders of the seven richest, industrialized democracies get together. The Group of Seven includes the United States, Germany, Britain, Canada, France, Italy and Japan. They take the pulse of the world economy and try to figure out how to work together to strengthen it and spur growth.Between recession and shifting global trading patterns, the pulse is blipping erratically this year. Everybody is worried the economic rules have changed, but nobody knows what the new ones are.

Mostly, the G-7 leaders make promises they can't deliver - such as ensuring the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and getting a world trade agreement. It's even worse this year. They're all politically weak at home.

Their hopes for action are on Clinton, but so far they're not encouraged. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen says bluntly: Don't expect anything dramatic.

Clinton seems weak and indecisive abroad. He failed to stop the killing in Bosnia. He promised and failed to help frightened Haitians. He continued business as usual with China despite its human-rights violations.

He did get Russian aid placed high on the agenda. But now, having invited Russian leader Boris Yeltsin to meet with them at the end of the summit on July 9, the G-7 is so far unable to come up with the $26 billion in loans promised. Not even an imperative $4 billion cash privatization fund seems likely now - $1.5 billion is more probable.

Yet Clinton has succeeded in pushing a deficit-reduction plan through the House and the Senate. That counts for a lot, even though the unpleasant, messy job of reconciling the different approaches of each body awaits him on his return.

While Clinton's budget would add another $1 trillion to the national debt, countries that have urged America to staunch its red-ink spending are pleased.

But progress is slow on the huge problem of getting an agreement on world trade rules, basically because Europe refuses to stop subsidizing its farmers so other nations can compete in its market. It seems likely this will be the fourth year the leaders promise a trade pact and fail.

This will be one of the most lackluster summits in years. Clinton is new but unwilling to make waves because he wants voters back home to think he's concentrating on domestic concerns and using the summit as a tool to that end. Canada Prime Minister Kim Campbell is also new and possibly promising but has her own political woes.

France's boring President Francois Mitterrand, who's been losing one political battle after another to his opposition, is on his way out. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl can't deliver the lower interest rates the rest of the world demands. British Prime Minister John Major has no oomph let alone pizzazz. Italy is in a state of chaos over its corruption scandal, and Prime Minister Carlo Ciampi is a short-term cipher. Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa has been humiliated by his parliament and is a temporary figurehead.

Never before has the economic summit so lacked charisma, authority and the possibility for decisive action. Yet rarely since World War II has the world more needed clear direction and economic leadership.

By virtue of its sheer size and huge economy, the United States is still the leader, so deference will be paid to Clinton. While most of the leaders already have met him in Washington, they still don't have his measure and are curious to see how he'll operate in a group.

Because he'll go to Seoul and then Hawaii after Tokyo, Clinton also finally has to tell the world what his Asian policy will be.

Japan's share of trade is increasing in the Pacific Rim; the U.S. share is declining. The U.S.-Japanese relationship is as tense as it's been in years. Meanwhile, South Korea is getting more powerful economically, and totalitarian North Korea is going nuclear.

But don't feel sorry for Clinton. He worked hard to be a new kid.