Who Holds US Foreign Policy Hostage? Treaties and Ambassadors Sit in Limbo as State Department Budget Plan Stalls

Article excerpt

A FAX dispatched to reporters last week by Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee contains startling news: The "Hostage Crisis" has reached its 101st day.

The hostage in question is not a beleaguered American diplomat abroad but American diplomacy itself, which is caught in the cross-fire of a bitter dispute that has pitted the chairman of the foreign relations panel, Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, against the Clinton administration and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.

Since last summer the two sides have used faxes and speeches to swap angry charges over a hotly contested proposal by Mr. Helms to reorganize and downsize the nation's foreign-policy bureaucracy. With both sides dug in, prospects for a compromise appear slim. The result: a sober conclusion, long since reached at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, that the mechanism of American foreign policy could remain stuck indefinitely.

"The foreign policy of the largest country in the world is being trapped by a major fight in which neither side has defined its objectives honestly and fairly," says one State Department official, angry at both parties to the dispute. "The result could be deadlock for the duration of this administration."

Caught in the middle of the dispute are at least 18 ambassadorial appointments that have been held up by Helms until the impasse is broken.

Other casualties of the standoff include a dozen international agreements, led by the START II strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia. Helms supports the treaty but says he will not release it from committee for a floor vote in the Senate until the administration negotiates in good faith on his reorganization plan.

A 1992 agreement that bans the production, sale, and use of chemical weapons is also being held up. But the Chemical Weapons Convention would not make it to the Senate floor in any case, since it is opposed by Helms and by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina, whose committee must also approve the treaty.

The Clinton administration says Helms is holding treaties and ambassadors hostage to his reorganization plan. Helms says the Clinton administration is holding his reorganization bill hostage.

The bill in question mandates, among other things, abolishing three independent foreign-affairs agencies - the Agency for International Development (AID), the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), and the US Information Agency (USIA) - and folding their functions into the State Department.

A similar plan was proposed by Secretary of State Warren Christopher earlier this year. Mr. Christopher later said the agencies needed to be preserved and recommended that President Clinton veto the reorganization measure if passed. …