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
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. …