World leaders reacted with cautious optimism Wednesday to the election of Bill Clinton as the next U.S. president, expressing hope the youthful Arkansas governor would bring a fresh impulse to the White House but worrying about the impact he might have on the world economy and critical foreign policy issues.
Enemies of President Bush ridiculed his loss at the polls, with followers of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein slaughtering sheep and chanting anti-Bush slogans in celebration of Clinton's victory and Cuban leader Fidel Castro's Communist Party trumpeting that Bush had suffered a ''humiliating'' defeat.
Most world leaders sent congratulatory messages wishing Clinton warmest regards and thanking Bush for his leadership at the close of the Cold War, but privately officials and businessmen expressed nervousness about exchanging the familiar hand of Bush for the little-known Clinton.
Across the globe from Tokyo to Moscow to Mexico City, government leaders and analysts expressed a similar sentiment: We don't know Bill Clinton. Officials in Mexico and Japan worried he would push protectionism over free trade, Mideast leaders wondered if the peace process would stall and China prepared for thornier Sino-U.S. relations if he turns campaign rhetoric into policy.
''Clinton is unknown to Japanese leaders, and we are worried he and the Democrats could take up protectionist trade policies,'' said Takashi Inoguchi, a professor of political science at Tokyo University. ''He will have to adopt tough policies or the U.S. economy will not be improved soon.''
His comments were echoed in the Mexican capital, where officials were concerned about whether Clinton would wholeheartedly press for Congress to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement, which aims to turn the United States, Canada and Mexico into a free trade zone.
Clinton has endorsed the agreement, which is likely to cause an initial transfer of jobs from the United States to Mexico, but he has criticized it for failing to ensure the countries are bound by similar regulations on environmental protection and worker rights.
''Mexico maybe is a bit afraid of Clinton because we don't too much about him,'' said Eduardo de Leon, an importer in Mexico City. ''Clinton has said he will support NAFTA but not in exactly what sense. Mexico needs NAFTA more than America does.''
Canadians expressed similar concerns, with Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski saying he was glad Canada already had signed a free-trade agreement with Washington and had negotiated the NAFTA free-trade pact because such accords would have been more difficult under the protectionist Democrats.
Officials in other parts of the world found the transition from Bush to Clinton unsettling. The Kremlin, which viewed the president as a partner and ally in ending the Cold War, was scrambling to find out more about the Arkansas governor and offering congratulations phrased in language clearly indicating it would have preferred a second Bush administration.
Anatoly Krasikov, head of President Boris Yeltsin's press service, said the Kremlin did not expect any changes in Washington's stance toward the former Soviet Union, which is relying upon the United States for financial assistance to help it move toward a free-market economy.
''We hope if there are to be any changes in U.S.-Russian relations, they will be only for the better along the path that was outlined by the Bush administration,'' Krasikov said. ''We are prepared to maintain the most friendly relations with the new leadership, taking into account everything positive that was reached under the Republicans.''
In the Middle East, where the president forged an alliance against Iraqi aggression and coaxed Israel and its Arab neighbors into historic peace talks on the 40-year-old Middle East conflict, reaction to the Arkansas governor's election was mixed.
Supporters of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein reportedly danced in the streets of Baghdad and slaughtered sheep in celebration over the electoral defeat of Bush, who put together the coalition of forces that drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War.
The government-run Al Gomhuriya newspaper said the results of the American election showed ''God wanted George Bush to be crushed in the elections and thrown in the garbage bin of history.''
''The other foes of Iraq should expect similar punishment from God. The cancer that plagued (French President Francois) Mitterand and the decline of the British pound from which Prime Minister John Major is now suffering are clear examples of heavenly punishment,'' the newspaper said.
The parties to the Middle East peace talks predicted the transition of U.S. presidents would put the Arab-Israeli peace process on hold for several months but said they did not anticipate a major shift in American foreign policy toward the region.
''Clinton's victory will affect negatively the (U.S.) interest to push forward the peace talks -- particularly in the next few months, and until the next president organizes his administration,'' the British Broadcasting Corp. quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa as saying.
''We do not expect a drastic change in the U.S. policy in this region,'' Sharaa added, saying he did not believe claims that Bush was slanted toward the Arabs in the talks, citing the approval of $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel recently approved by the president.
In the Jewish state itself, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin congratulated Clinton and said he was convinced the ''special relations between the American people and the people of Israel'' would continue. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he believed the peace talks would continue forward.
While Rabin also praised President Bush for being a friend to Israel, other Israelis had blunt words of condemnation for the American leader because of his administration's sharp opposition to the construction of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
''I am happy that the American voter supported a true democrat and a friend of Israel,'' said Rehavam Ze'evi, a far-right member of Parliament and frequent critic of U.S. policy toward Israel. ''I am happy that Bush has gone home.''
Similar sentiments were expressed by leaders in a country halfway around the world, the Caribbean island nation of Cuba, whose economy was devastated and whose Communist leadership was left out in the cold by the collapse of the East Bloc and the end of the Cold War.
The Communist Party newspaper Granma labeled Bush's defeat ''humiliating'' and the island's Assembly President Juan Escalona sarcastically expressed regret Bush would not be able to visit the Caribbean nation, a reference to Bush's stated desire to be the first U.S. leader to visit Cuba after the end of the communist revolution.
Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro congratulated Clinton and expressed confidence his administration would release a frozen aid package for the beleagured country.
Pro-Sandinista newspapers celebrated Bush's defeat. Bush was a long- time supporter of the Contra rebels both as president and vice president during two Reagan administrations.
Foreign Minister Ernesto Leal said he hopes to establish a dialogue with Clinton about his policies regarding Central America and added that ''an important part of the immediate bilateral agenda will be the efforts of the new administration to unfreeze the $104 million (in U.S. aid) for Nicaragua.''
The money was frozen by the U.S. Congress -- mainly at the behest of Senator Jesse Helms, Republican, -- due to concerns over Chamorro's close relationship with the leftist Sandinista party.
President-elect Clinton received a congratulatory note from the leaders of another country suffering under U.S. economic sanctions. Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic urged the governor to ''assist us in bringing real democratic reform to Yugoslavia.''
Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic, who along with Panic is locked in a power struggle with Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milosevic over policies aimed at ending the Balkans war, also sent a message saying he hoped for a return to relations ''based on traditional friendship and harmony between our peoples.''
While some nations viewed Clinton's election with uncertainty, China had good reason to believe its relations with the United States would be thornier under a Clinton administration because of the governor's scathing criticism of Beijing's human rights record during the campaign.
Although there was no immediate government reaction to Clinton's victory, hundreds of curious Chinese jammed a U.S. Embassy election center to monitor returns from the presidential vote, expressing both fear and hope for an anticipated tougher line toward China under Clinton.
''It might become difficult now, because Clinton will use a very firm policy against China,'' said Jia Yechun, 20, an English major at a Beijing college. ''Clinton seems to have a strong prejudice against China.''
But another middle-aged intellectual, who declined to be identified, expressed hope that a tougher U.S. policy toward China might push the communist government toward adding political reforms to its drive for a capitalist-style market economy.
''Perhaps if the United States is more forceful, our government will see an interest in allowing us to speak more freely, even if there is no democracy,'' he said.