Talbott gets No. 2 post at State Dept.

December 28, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Strobe Talbott, a longtime friend of President Clinton's and a journalist-turned-diplomat for eight months, will be promoted today to the State Department's No. 2 post, officials said yesterday.

The appointment as deputy secretary marks a stunning rise by Mr. Talbott, who has been the administration's top policy-maker on the former Soviet Union and one of the president's key advisers.

The appointment, which will be subject to Senate confirmation, will be announced at a 2 p.m. EST press conference in Los Angeles by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, who is vacationing in California.

Mr. Talbott, 47, a former correspondent, editor and columnist for Time magazine, replaces Clifton Wharton, who resigned in the fall after failing to provide the kind of strong day-to-day handling of foreign affairs that would have allowed Mr. Christopher to concentrate on a few crucial areas.

The appointment completes the second major change in the lineup of President Clinton's foreign affairs team, following the choice of retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman last week to replace Defense Secretary Les Aspin.

Mr. Clinton's first year in office has been marred by widely perceived mismanagement of crises in Haiti, Bosnia and Somalia.

One area that the administration touts as a major success, however, has been its policy toward Russia, marked by consistent support for President Boris N. Yeltsin and his pro-reform government despite a series of political setbacks.

That policy, largely framed by Mr. Talbott, has been criticized by advocates of a more arms-length approach to Russia's leadership, particularly in the aftermath of recent parliamentary elections that gave a surprisingly strong vote to the party of ultra-nationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky.

In the wake of the obvious voter discontent displayed in the elections, Mr. Talbott disclosed last week that the Clinton administration would moderate its push for rapid economic reform in Russia so as to lessen the hardship it imposes on average Russians.

Rather than the "shock therapy" that some had argued was necessary to transform the former Communist economy, Mr. Talbott said the new goal would aim for "less shock and more therapy for the Russian people."

This quick policy shift showed a flexibility on Mr. Talbott's part that is often a rare commodity among senior policy-makers.

Coupled with this is his skill as a spokesman, which is expected to make up for Mr. Christopher's often lackluster performances.

Besides Mr. Talbott, others mentioned for the deputy secretary's position included Winston Lord, assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs, and Thomas R. Pickering, U.S. envoy to Moscow. Both have much broader diplomatic experience, but neither man enjoys Mr. Talbott's close relationship with the president.

Mr. Talbott, has degrees from Hotchkiss, Yale and Oxford universities. His friendship with Mr. Clinton began on a ship carrying both Rhodes Scholars to England in the fall of 1968. The two have maintained close ties ever since.

As a writer for Time and author or co-author of eight books, Mr. Talbott became one of the leading chroniclers of the Cold War and its aftermath

He was sworn in April 2 as ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union, a specially created post that gave him control of U.S. policy toward all the former Soviet republics except the Baltic states.

Mr. Talbott played a key role in developing both the American aid package unveiled during Mr. Clinton's summit with Mr. Yeltsin in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the later international aid package announced last summer at the Tokyo summit of industrialized democracies.

He also has negotiated with Ukraine in partially successful efforts to persuade its government to relinquish the inherited nuclear weapons left on its soil when the Soviet Union collapsed.

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