WASHINGTON BRIEFING

OFF THE TRACK: The campaign to keep the nation's eyes and ears focused on the benefits of President Clinton's Asian trip was nearly derailed by an unexpected encounter. The Pentagon announced late last week that Defense Secretary Les Aspin would meet Clinton in South Korea and deliver the final recommendations for lifting the military's ban on gays. . . . White House spin doctors were horrified: Clinton's successful first summit could well be marred by interminable questions about the controversy. . . . To head off the distraction, presidential counselor David Gergen on Friday forcefully denied the Pentagon's story: While Aspin would indeed meet with Clinton, the options for lifting the ban would not be presented before the President's return to work in Washington on Thursday.

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