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O'Neill defends being overseas as economy floundered

Monday, July 29, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill defended his absence abroad last week rather than being at home to reassure worried Americans about the economy. He said Sunday he doubted that "a few words will calm the market."

O'Neill went to four former Soviet republics, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, to gather information on how to bolster their economic growth, private investment and living standards.

"I don't think that one individual can say words that will cause the market to go in one direction or another for a sustained amount of time. I think my job is to work on the fundamentals," O'Neill said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Some economists said O'Neill's absence and lack of reassuring words in a time of economic turmoil at home underscored the perception that he, the Bush administration's chief economic spokesman, is disconnected.

O'Neill he was never out of touch with the markets and Washington during his trip.

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