Old Hands at State

January 21, 1993

President Clinton's pre-inaugural appointments to the State Department display some hasty staffing and some good staffing but hardly a foreign policy up and running. They imply a new toughness with China on behalf of human rights, but continuity with Bush initiatives toward Middle East peace. Beyond that, they show indecision over Cuba and ad hoc approaches elsewhere.

Winston Lord, who will become assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was a Reagan era ambassador to China who condemned President Bush's granting of most-favored nation status for the hardline Beijing regime that massacred human rights demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He wants to use trade relations for leverage (a dubious move) on behalf of China's democratic movement.

Giving re-appointment as assistant secretary for Near East and South Asian affairs to Edward P. Djerejian reassures the Arab participants in the Middle East peace talks. They trust Mr. Djerejian. It suggests that Mr. Clinton's public identification with Israel will not compromise the Bush administration's even-handed role in the Middle East.

Another strong signal of continuity is the retention for six months of Dennis Ross, one of the closest advisers of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and an architect of the talks. Israel's government, in turn, will be pleased that Samuel Lewis, popular longtime career ambassador to Israel, is made chief of policy planning, the State Department's think tank.

Keeping on Bernard Aronson as assistant secretary for inter-American affairs means only that the Clinton camp lost its nerve over appointing Mario Leon Baeza, a Cuban-born lawyer conciliatory toward the Castro regime. The hang-up over Cuban policy should not obscure the greater urgency of Central America and the greater long-term importance of relations with Mexico.

Some other appointments are political, some personal and some expedient, such as retention for the moment of the Iraq-policy team. By and large, Mr. Clinton is cautious on foreign policy personnel, putting in place a more seasoned team than he felt necessary for domestic affairs.

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