Inside the Ring

By Scarborough, Bill Gertz/Rowan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

Inside the Ring


Scarborough, Bill Gertz/Rowan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


AIR FORCE MYSTERY

Now that former Energy Department official Charles Curtis is in line to be the next Air Force secretary, people in the Senate and the Air Force are wondering what deep-sixed the chances of F. Whitten Peters?

Mr. Peters has served for more than a year as both the Air Force's undersecretary and acting secretary. Except for one noticeable goof, he has won praise. His name was among a handful the administration informally whispered to the Senate to see whether a formal nomination would fly.

One Air Force officer commented, "Gee, that's too bad. We all like him," when told Mr. Peters would not get the nod.

So what happened?

The speculation is that Mr. Peters was done in by his own hand. He penned an April 26 memo saying the White House encouraged Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre to press Lockheed Martin Corp. to seek depot jobs that would end at a privatized air base in Sacramento, Calif. Republicans saw the memo as a "smoking gun" proving White House meddling in the base closure process to please voter-rich states like California.

But there is a problem with this explanation.

Republican Sens. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma and Robert F. Bennett of Utah would be the two most likely to block a Peters nomination since their states are home to Air Force depots. But, according to a reliable congressional source, neither objected. Likewise, when Democratic senators were canvassed, no protest emerged.

"I thought he would go thumbs down, but he didn't," said one source.

An Inhofe aide said the senator "talked it over with Peters and concluded Peters was not the problem. It was the White House. He developed a pretty good working relationship with Peters over time."

The answer may be that Mr. Curtis simply was better connected politically. He and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen are friends from law school.

WHERE'S STANLEY?

Stanley Riveles, the U.S. commissioner to the permanent Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty commission with Russia in Geneva, was nowhere in sight during the recent high-level arms talks in Moscow. A U.S. group headed by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott talked with the Russians about changes to the ABM treaty that would allow for a limited national missile defense. But without the administration's top ABM negotiator in tow, the administration's seriousness about protecting America from missile attack is once again being called into question.

Russia was ready to talk. Mr. Riveles' counterpart, ABM negotiator Victor Koltunov, was in on all the meetings this week.

"Clearly the administration hopes to achieve something, which is why they left Stan behind," one government critic of Mr. Riveles said sarcastically.

Mr. Riveles angered many in the Pentagon for his penchant for giving away important U.S. missile defense capabilities during the nearly disastrous negotiations with Moscow on regional missile defenses. Those talks dragged on for years and failed to resolve key issues, but almost succeeded in allowing Moscow to negotiate restrictions on vital theater missile defenses.

We ran into Mr. Riveles at a reception Tuesday night at the Willard Hotel and asked him why he wasn't in Moscow. "They don't need me there," Mr. Riveles said. Didn't Defense Secretary William S. Cohen say last month that treaty negotiations are in the offing and if they fail, the United States will abandon the treaty? …

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