Talbott, Holbrooke in Line to Head State: Mitchell Is Seen as a Dark Horse

Article excerpt

Speculation has begun on who would be secretary of state in a second Clinton administration, with Strobe Talbott and Richard Holbrooke the early favorites but many observers looking for a dark horse who could beat them both.

Regardless what happens in November, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, 70, is expected to step down after four low-key but energetic years in which he has visited about 80 countries - some of them more than 10 times.

Mr. Talbott, deputy secretary of state, and his close longtime friend Mr. Holbrooke, who retired this month as assistant secretary for European and Canadian affairs, both have strong credentials to succeed him.

Mr. Talbott, as Mr. Christopher's No. 2, appears to be Mr. Christopher's personal favorite for the job. The two have worked well together.

Succeeding the popular but ineffectual Clifford Wharton as deputy secretary, Mr. Talbott streamlined decision-making, especially on the many issues that tend to get overlooked until events force them into the spotlight.

Mr. Talbott also enjoys the confidence of the president, a personal friend for more than a quarter of a century, and works well with other members of Mr. Clinton's foreign and national security teams. His appointment would allow a smooth transition at State.

But Mr. Talbott is a bete noire to conservative Republicans over his record as a high-profile columnist for Time magazine through the 1980s and for his alleged failure to anticipate developments in Russia such as the rise of ultranationalists in the 1993 parliamentary elections.

If the president wins re-election with a Democratic majority in the Senate or a demoralized and reduced Republican majority, Mr. Talbott's chances to succeed Mr. Christopher remain excellent, Hill and administration insiders say.

But if the president is re-elected to face a strong and confident Republican majority in the Senate, or if his policies are discredited by a major crisis, that could work in favor of Mr. Holbrooke.

The forceful and charismatic Mr. …