Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reaches Out To President Clinton -- She Ends Long Political Isolation

Inside: pages of paranoia The release of files on the Kennedy assassination this week provides a history lesson in obsessive intelligence-gathering driven by the Cold War. A12. --------------------------------

EDGARTOWN, Mass. - Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who for decades has shunned Washington ties and high-profile political events, reached out yesterday to a new generation in the White House.

Wearing her signature shades and scarf, the camera-shy Onassis waited on board the 70-foot yacht Relemar to greet President Clinton and his family.

But she could be seen smiling broadly from behind the yacht's tinted windows as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Maurice Tempelsman, her longtime companion who owns the yacht, welcomed the first family from the dock.

In a scene reminiscent of long-ago Kennedy clan outings in Hyannis, Mass., members of the country's most famous political family took to sea with Secret Service agents hovering and photographers peering from a distance.

Onassis, 64, treated the Clintons, vacationing on Martha's Vineyard for 10 days, to lunch and a day of sailing and a visit at her summer home. Her hospitality to the Clintons, though, has not been limited to this day on the island.

Shortly after the inauguration last January, Onassis invited Hillary Rodham Clinton for a very private lunch at her Manhattan apartment. Clinton associates say Hillary Clinton found Onassis' advice on maintaining privacy for children in the White House invaluable.

Onassis sat next to the president at his birthday party here last week at the home of Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan.

Democrats say there is an affinity between Onassis and the Clintons that has not always existed between the widow of John F. Kennedy and Democratic presidents and party leaders in the past.

"I think it's because he claims a particular affinity for John Kennedy. We may have had nominees who talked about him, but none who acknowledged as directly and as almost emotionally his kinship with President Kennedy," said Frank Mankiewicz, who served as press secretary to President Kennedy's late brother Robert Kennedy.

Mankiewicz, vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton publishers, also said of Clinton: "He's young. He's the same age President Kennedy was, roughly, when elected. I think she sees some resonance," he added.

"She is much more active in and around and on behalf of the Clinton administration than any other Democratic candidate or administration," he said. "And I think it is because she sees the youthfulness and vigor and physical activity and the young people and the sense we can be better than we think we are."

Clinton often has spoken of how John F. Kennedy inspired him to go into politics. Over and over again in the campaign last year, the 30-year-old video of a teenage Bill Clinton shaking hands with President Kennedy in the Rose Garden during a Boys' Nation visit was shown.

Democratic consultant Ann Lewis agrees that Onassis has reached out to the Clintons in a way she has not always acted toward leading Democrats in the past, but said she could only speculate as to why.

"If I had to guess, it has more to do with the children being more active and interested politically," she said.

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg recently was a little-noticed guest at the White House swearing-in ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There has been unconfirmed speculation that John Kennedy, who recently quit his $39,500 a year job in the Manhattan district attorney's office, might be interested in an administration job or in seeking a political career.

A White House official who requested anonymity said Clinton and Onassis had "hit it off" on the occasions they have met. Clinton, the official said, had been "very charmed" by Onassis on their earlier encounters.

Between Kennedy and Clinton, only two other Democrats have occupied the White House.

During the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, Onassis declined an invitation to the dedication of the Jacqueline Kennedy garden. Relations were strained in part because of the animosity between Johnson and then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Jimmy Carter, the next Democrat to serve in the White House, attended the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, but there were published accounts suggesting that Onassis was taken aback when, following Southern tradition, he kissed her.

According to one Democrat, Onassis "certainly was very friendly and helpful to George McGovern." But several Democrats said they did not recall her doing any political events for Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis, the 1984 and 1988 Democratic nominees.

Onassis, however, apparently at times had communication by phone and letter with Nancy Reagan. "It was just supportive . . . there is, after all, a small sorority of former first ladies," one Republican said.

Of Onassis, the Republican said, "What she doesn't do is come to Washington." After briefly living in the city's exclusive Georgetown neighborhood after the assassination, she moved to New York and later married Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who died in 1975.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, Calif., questioned whether it's "an affinity between Jackie O and the Clintons" or "Bill Clinton's near fixation with all things Kennedy."

Like many other young Americans, she said, Clinton felt the impact of Kennedy. "He has honed the political art as a mature adult, but I don't for a minute think (the affinity) for Kennedy is not genuine," she said.

From Onassis' standpoint, she said, "Here comes a young man who probably is the closest thing she has seen to the articulation of the political legacy of John Kennedy."

The president frequently quotes Kennedy, and Democrats have said the Kennedy family particularly were moved by his speech honoring Robert Kennedy on the 25th anniversary of his assassination and also were pleased Clinton named Jean Kennedy Smith ambassador to Ireland.

Yesterday, the Clintons and the Kennedy party spent more than four hours cruising along Martha's Vineyard Sound, anchoring for several hours in a cove for lunch. Guests included Jordan and his wife, Ann; Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her husband, Edwin Schlossberg; Chelsea Clinton; and Edward Kennedy's wife, Victoria Reggie.

When Tempelsman, a diamond dealer from New York, finally docked the Relemar late in the afternoon after several false starts, the president and waiting onlookers applauded.

Clinton snapped a picture of Hillary Clinton and Onassis, who with hair tied in a pony tail had switched to a baseball cap.

And then the cruise ended as it began with an element of mystery. The elusive Onassis somehow departed without the White House press pool sighting her.