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Clinton lauds Argentina as ally

Declaring that this once-troublesome neighbor was blossoming into a valued friend, President Clinton said Thursday he would seek ally status for Argentina to honor its role as a peace-keeper.

"As close to home as Guatemala and Haiti, as far away as Bosnia, Cyprus and Mozambique, Argentina has answered the call to peace," Clinton said.Standing at a monument honoring Argentine liberator Gen. Jose de San Martin, the president said he would ask Congress to give Argentina special standing as a non-NATO military ally. The designation, to the consternation of some if its South American neighbors, would make Argentina eligible for economic development programs and other assistance.

"Our alliance and values go beyond our efforts against threats to peace and security, but it begins there," Clinton said.

Borrowing the words of the Argentine hero - "All progress is the child of time" - he added that San Martin would be proud to see his nation take up the cause of peace in troubled parts of the world.

"He would remind us of the work still undone, the challenges still unmet. He would urge us to press on to make progress the child of this time," the president said.

After laying a wreath taller than himself, he met with President Carlos Menem at Casa Rosada, Argentina's pink equivalent of the White House. Clinton would later meet with opposition leaders and participate in a televised town hall meeting.

Clinton arrived here Wednesday night. After embracing Menem at a welcoming ceremony, Clinton and his wife, Hillary, headed into town for dinner at a steakhouse and to see a floor show at Senor Tango, where black-clad couples performed sultry versions of the tango.

"I loved it. Hillary loved it," he enthused, even as he said Thursday that he wouldn't try the dance himself. "No. Not up to the standards I saw last night," Clinton demurred. At a picture-taking session, Menem countered in Spanish: "I'm going to teach him."

Argentina, which has taken part in more than 12 U.N. peacekeeping missions over the past decade, is the first nation to win non-NATO status since the end of the Cold War. This has irritated some other Latin nations, such as Chile and Brazil.

In Brazil, Clinton encountered small but strident anti-U.S. demonstrators at virtually every step of his two-day visit there.

In Rio de Janeiro, sharpshooters with binoculars watched the hillside above the "Vila Olimpica" - Olympic Village - soccer field where Clinton spoke to an audience of poor children. Soldiers lined nearby streets. On a freeway ramp behind Clinton, a conspicuous sign read, "Go Back to USA."