Helms calls a halt to foreign policy operations on Hill Senator dams up treaties, confirmation of diplomats


WASHINGTON -- After two months of trying to force the Clinton administration to revamp its foreign policy bureaucracy, Sen. Jesse Helms has dug in, vowing to continue to hold up all ambassadorial appointments until he is taken more seriously.

The North Carolina Republican has halted business meetings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, frozen 400 State Department promotions and blocked more than a dozen treaties and other international agreements, including the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, so they cannot be voted on by the full Senate.

Thirty ambassadorial nominees and one assistant secretary of state are awaiting confirmation, 15 percent of U.S. embassies around the world are without new ambassadors, and day-to-day foreign policy business on Capitol Hill has ground to a halt.

All this is being done to reach an unrelated goal: that the independent agencies that handle arms control, foreign aid and information be eradicated and swallowed up by the State Department, a move Mr. Helms asserts will save taxpayers $3 billion over four years.

"These people are playing hard ball and dirty pool at the same time, and I'm not going to cave in," he said in an interview. "But all the president has got to do is say, 'Senator, let's talk,' and we'll talk. It'll end on the day the president says we'll make a deal and we bust up that little fairyland."

From the administration's point of view, the senator should have been satisfied with his meeting President Clinton last month.

"The situation is creating management and morale problems that interfere with the conduct of diplomacy," Secretary of State Warren Christopher said in an interview. "Our problems around the world are difficult enough as it is without the extra burden of not having our personnel in place."

The impasse has become even more serious, Mr. Christopher added, with the nomination Friday of James Sasser, the former Democratic senator from Tennessee, as ambassador to China.

Making nominees suffer has long been a favorite pastime of Mr. Helms, who, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, controls their fate.

But never before has the Foreign Relations Committee been closed down, a move that prevents committee members from meeting to iron out legislative disagreements and to act on appointments, treaties, promotions lists and authorization bills.

In addition to the two arms control treaties, Mr. Helms is also preventing the committee from taking action on international conventions on women and the environment and more than a dozen bilateral investment treaties.

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