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Clinton foresees no quick fix for oil woes
He offers modest proposals to help, won't tap reserves

WASHINGTON -- Americans hoping for quick relief from high fuel prices should be patient, President Clinton said Saturday as he cautioned against "shortsighted and risky steps" to address the problem.

"There's no overnight solution," the president said in his weekly radio address as he announced a series of modest proposals.None directly addresses the current oil shortages or eases gasoline prices approaching $2 a gallon -- with the prospect of higher pump prices during the peak summer driving season. For now, Clinton refused to tap the government's emergency oil stockpile, despite appeals from lawmakers from both parties.

White House officials were relying on "quiet diplomacy" to persuade oil exporting countries to increase production and erase a 2-million-barrel-a-day global supply shortfall when they meet March 27 in Vienna, Austria.

To that end, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson was embarking on another round of diplomatic missions Sunday, meeting with oil ministers from Nigeria, Indonesia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates as well as other officials involved in the oil markets.

Clinton lamented that expensive oil and gasoline "are causing hardship for many Americans." But he added that "we also need to take a longer view," and he said he was optimistic more oil soon will be made available.

Congress, he said, should approve proposals to:

Create an emergency 2-million barrel heating oil reserve in the Northeast where supply disruptions caused prices to soar this winter.

Offer tax incentives to promote energy conservation, alternative fuels and more energy efficient automobiles and homes.

Provide modest tax breaks to support increased domestic production. His approach is far short of what Republicans and the oil industry have sought.

The administration will not decide until after the OPEC meeting whether to draw some of the nearly 570 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The reserve, created in 1975 after the Arab oil embargo, is intended to provide a stopgap in case of disruptions in oil imports. It has been used only once, during the gulf war in 1991.

In response to Clinton's package, Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., welcomed the goal of improved technology. But, he said, tax credits for research and development "do nothing for families who would like to pack up the station wagon and drive to Yellowstone this summer."