Clinton prays for peace at annual breakfast
Arafat attends event despite objections
February 4, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 4) -- It's one morning a year when Washington tries to put differences aside in the name of prayer. President Bill Clinton and political and religious leaders gathered Thursday morning for the National Prayer Breakfast where Clinton led the group in a silent prayer for peace.
But some controversy intruded on this year's event, with complaints from several Christian groups who objected to the attendance of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Clinton urged the gathering of U.S. lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, as well religious and world leaders, to put aside grievances in the spirit of reconciliation and pray for peace around the world and for the peacemakers.
"Remember that all the great peacemakers in the world in the end have to let go and walk away, like Christ, not from apparent but from genuine grievances," Clinton said.
Presidents have been attending the National Prayer Breakfast since President Dwight Eisenhower.
The president did not mention his impeachment troubles, but Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) appeared to have the divisive political debate of the past year in mind when he spoke just a few moments after the president.
"Lord, we pray that you will not only restore his soul and lead him in the paths of righteousness for your name's sake, but help us join with him to heal the breach, begin the reconciliation and restore our national souls so we may go forward together and make this great country even greater," Lieberman said.
In his pleas, Clinton made multiple references to the Middle East peace process and the efforts Arafat's contributions to that struggle. The president's remarks, and Arafat's attendance, came despite calls for a boycott by some Christian conservatives because of the Palestinian leader's invitation.
Arafat, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have had standing invitation to the breakfast for the past three years.
Randy Tate, executive director of the powerful Christian Coalition lobby group, announced he would boycott the event because attending "would provide legitimacy to an unrepentant terrorist who has the blood of thousands on his hands."
The Traditional Values Coalition, which represents 40,000 U.S. churches, also encouraged "congressmen to boycott the breakfast because Arafat is an unrepentant terrorist," said spokesman Thad Pinney.
This year's coordinator, conservative Rep. Steve Largent (R-Oklahoma) said it would be a mistake to boycott the breakfast because it was an opportunity for people of differing opinions to come together.
"This is precisely the type of event that people like Mr. Arafat ought to be invited to," Largent said in a statement before the event.
The Palestinian leader, already in Washington for meetings with administration officials, said he was not going to be deterred from participating: "As you can see, I am here in spite of all what they have tried."
Some of those calling for the boycott are uneasy about the idea of a land for peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, since in their view God gave Israel, including the West Bank, to the Jews.
Evangelical Christians have traditionally been strong supporters of Israel. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations is staying away too, but most invited Jewish group leaders did attend. After all, said one, Arafat is Israel's partner in the peace process.
CNN's David Ensor contributed to this report.
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