Getting diplomatic with Capitol Hill


THE CLINTON administration has assembled a team to dislodge the greatest obstruction to U.S. foreign-policy objectives, which is not Russia or China but the isolationist impulse governing Congress during its Republican ascendancy.

This obstacle is personified by Sen. Jesse Helms, the reactionary Tar Heel who governs the Foreign Relations Committee as his personal microstate.

Under his influence, the U.S. has refused to pay past United Nations dues; not ratified arms-control agreements; under-funded foreign policy; hobbled its ability to use aid as a tool of either U.S. national interest or Third World growth, and pretended to legislate for foreign countries.

This has brought scorn and denunciation from traditional U.S. friends. The Helms-Burton Act -- to enhance the private interests of a handful of Floridians who used to be Cubans -- is fouling relations with Canada, Britain, France, Spain and Mexico. No one at the U.N. will willingly do U.S. bidding till Washington pays up there.

This is what President Clinton faced when nominating Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her successor as permanent delegate to the United Nations, Bill Richardson. Their goal is to persuade Congress to let Mr. Clinton have a foreign policy. For starters, it readily let him have them.

Ms. Albright's skill at talking to the American people and good relations with Senator Helms have been noted along with her pitching style. She brought the senator the head of former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

In return, he may allow ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention this month; perhaps even of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which was signed in 1980.

Richardson's role

Mr. Richardson, whose cabinet role in foreign policy takes him to Washington twice a week, has lobbied on Capitol Hill for the U.S. to pay up its U.N. arrears. He is lobbying at the U.N. for future U.S. obligations to be scaled down from 31 percent of peace-keeping assessments to 25 percent, and from 25 percent of basic dues to 20 percent. A clear trade-off.

He calls Secretary General Kofi Annan's plan for downsizing the Secretariat a good start. It involves staff cuts, budget caps, a stronger inspector general and consolidation of three economic-development bureaucracies into one. The second shoe comes by July, when Mr. Annan will propose downsizing U.N.-related agencies.

Within 90 days, the administration seeks a grand bargain with congressional leadership headed by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to clear up the U.N. impasse.

Mr. Richardson, the half-Mexican former seven-term congressman from New Mexico, is meant to pass in New York as a Third Worldling and on Capitol Hill as a denizen. He appears in each place as a sympathetic representative of the other.

A full accommodation with Senator Helms would let the administration use aid as a policy tool, pay up at the U.N., ratify treaties that flow from bipartisan foreign policy, get easier confirmations and amend out of the Cuba embargo what most offends friendly countries.

Senator Helms can get two things in return. One is credit for reform of the U.N. The other is his plan to force the United States Information Agency (USIA), Agency for International Development (AID) and Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) into the State Department.

J. Brian Atwood, head of AID, spent the first term fighting this. Vice President Gore, reorganizer-in-chief of government, could come out in favor.

With the Albright-Richardson duo, the White House has determined that it must accommodate Capitol Hill before it can deal effectively with other powers.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Sun.

! Pub Date: 4/05/97

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