Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

James Baker's Mettle Tested at Multinational Conference / Regan Differences Seen

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

James Baker's Mettle Tested at Multinational Conference / Regan Differences Seen

Article excerpt

PARIS - Last week was Baker week, at home and abroad.

An ocean and a continent away from here in Santa Barbara, President Reagan, in an effort to improve government efficiency, delegated near absolute authority over the domestic economy to his new Treasury Secretary, James A. Baker 3d. He gave the attorney general, Edwin Meese 3d, similar responsibility for domestic policy.

And in Paris, with an offer to lead a conference on improving the behavior of currencies, Baker captured the agenda of world economic policy as well, for at least a few days and perhaps for much longer.

Baker led a delegation of 26 American officials to the annual finance ministers meeting of the 24 industrial democracies that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The organization is one of the principal arenas in which nations meet to try to keep the world economy from falling off a cliff.

This was Baker's first big test in the trenches of economic diplomacy. It was his first crack at a major multinational conference and the foreign community's first experience with him as an independent operator, out of the shadow of the White House and his previous job as chief of staff.

Beyond the matter of Baker's performance, the gathering here was important because much of the agenda was developed for the economic summit conference in Bonn in the beginning of May.

""It's not so much what we do or don't do in concrete terms,'' Baker said. ""It's an impetus we can give for the summit.''

The president is giving Baker an immense amount of running room - more than that accorded the former Secretary and new chief of staff, Donald T. Regan - in international matters as well as domestic.

Baker relies heavily on a few close aides, unlike Regan, who at the Treasury Department turned to a variety of staff members.

As Baker boarded his commercial flight to Paris, only two members of his staff joined him in first class. In the seat beside him was Richard T. Darman, the deputy secretary and Baker's chief aide at the White House. In the seat directly behind Baker was Margaret D. Tutwiler, who came over from the White House to be assistant secretary for public affairs and public liaison.

As it was on the plane, so it was throughout the conference. Darman accompanied the secretary everywhere, in the back of the aging, bulletproof Chrysler sedan that carried Baker to appointments, athis side at some meetings and discreetly in the background at others.

Baker carried stapled-together photocopies of photographs of the emissaries he would deal with here, along with their biographies and their positions on issues. …

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