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Clinton delays summit with Yeltsin by 1 day

The wheels of international diplomacy will turn more slowly than planned this week, as President Clinton _ hobbled by emergency surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right knee _ on Sunday delayed by one day his summit meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Looking tired but relaxed in a black-nylon running suit, Clinton checked out of the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center late Sunday morning and arrived at the White House around noon, in a wheelchair being pushed by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Shortly thereafter, White House press secretary Mike McCurry announced that despite the president's previous insistence that he would go to the summit in Helsinki, Finland, as scheduled, the start of the talks had been pushed back a day, to Thursday. Clinton will embark for the meeting on Wednesday instead of Tuesday, as originally planned.

In addition, Clinton has scrapped a visit to Denmark that was to have followed the summit. He will make that trip in July instead, the White House said.

Clinton's injury will force some other changes in his schedule. He will skip a traditional St. Patrick's Day meeting with Irish Prime Minister John Bruton; instead, McCurry said, Vice President Gore will accept "the customary bowl of shamrocks."

The president will, however, participate in a planned meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who is in Washington to prepare for the Helsinki summit.

The two-day summit is intended to help the United States and Russia reach an understanding about the Western alliance's plans to enlarge NATO to include some former Soviet bloc nations.

McCurry said Clinton _ who had his first round of "very vigorous" physical therapy Saturday night _ needs the extra day in Washington to adjust to his crutches and newfound immobility. For his part, the president said he is up to the task.

"I think it will be an interesting experience," Clinton said as his wife rolled him toward the White House. "I just want to be careful and not make any mistakes. . . . You just have to learn to use a few different muscles." He also said that while he feels a twinge when he moves, he's not in great pain.

The president was asked if doctors had to twist his arm to get him to delay the Helsinki trip. "No twisting of arms," the first lady joked, "or any other limb."

Clinton tripped and injured himself early Friday while walking down a flight of steps at the Florida estate of professional golfer Greg Norman. He was flown to the National Naval Medical Center in Maryland later that day and underwent a two-hour operation to reattach the torn tendon.

For the White House, the knee problem has been a welcome distraction from more pressing troubles _ the fund-raising furor that has enveloped the president and his aides in recent weeks. As he arrived home Sunday, a reporter asked the president if he thought his surgery would win him any "sympathy votes" on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans are raising the specter of impeachment.

"I don't know," Clinton replied, laughing, "but if it does, I'll take them any way I can get them."