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  •   Richardson to Energy; Holbrooke to U.N.

    U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson.
    By John F. Harris
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, June 18, 1998; Page A01

    President Clinton has decided to nominate Bill Richardson as energy secretary and replace him as ambassador to the United Nations with Richard C. Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the 1995 Bosnian peace settlement and one of the nation's most aggressive diplomats.

    Senior administration officials said Clinton and Vice President Gore plan to make the announcement at the White House today, with Holbrooke and Richardson by their sides.

    While Richardson's move to the Energy Department has been decided for weeks, according to several officials, Holbrooke's recruitment back into the administration came only after extensive discussions at senior levels over whether the strong-willed Holbrooke could work effectively with other members of the administration's foreign policy team.

    Clinton's willingness to take a chance on Holbrooke adds a dynamic, if somewhat unpredictable, element to Clinton's foreign policy.

    Holbrooke, 57, was a diplomatic prodigy when he served as assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs in the Carter administration, and he enjoys a reputation as a bold strategist and risk-taker.

    At a time when a new wave of ethnic violence is underway in the Serbian province of Kosovo, Holbrooke also will be the administration's most experienced hand at dealing with the treacherous diplomacy of the Balkans. Following months of shuttling between European capitals and three weeks closeted with Balkan leaders at an Air Force Base in Ohio, Holbrooke helped broker the 1995 Dayton peace agreement.

    After leaving his first-term job as assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Holbrooke returned to investment banking as a vice chairman of CS First Boston Group, but continued to take diplomatic assignments from Clinton.

    He served as Cyprus envoy and traveled to Yugoslavia this spring to pressure Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to temper his crackdown against Kosovo's separatist Albanian guerrillas and negotiate to restore the province's autonomous status within Serbia.

    While acknowledging Holbrooke's talent, some senior Clinton advisers – in particular Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright – were initially wary of bringing him into the fold, according to senior administration officials.

    The fear, they said, was that Holbrooke's penchant for the spotlight and his reputed tendency to trample over bureaucratic opposition would make him more trouble than he is worth.

    It was these concerns, some officials said, that tipped the balance in favor of Albright in late 1996 when Clinton was picking his second-term secretary of state.

    Other names contemplated for the cabinet-status U.N. posting were former Senate majority leader George Mitchell and Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.

    But aides said Clinton was focused most intently on Holbrooke from the beginning. So was Gore, whom Holbrooke advised during Gore's unsuccessful 1988 bid for the presidency.

    White House sources said Albright, after assuaging her concerns about Holbrooke's ability to meld with the existing team, lodged no objections to Holbrooke. And some senior State Department officials said that by the end of the process, he was her preferred choice for the job.

    A State Department official close to Albright said she endorsed Holbrooke to Clinton because of "his activism" and "the vitality he would add to the team."

    "This is a test for Holbrooke," said one administration official, speculating that if he performs well at the U.N. mission in New York, he would be a logical choice to be secretary of state if Gore becomes president.

    Richardson, too, may be thinking of his next job. He was eager to move to the Energy Department, in part because of its significance in dealing with nuclear issues. These topics are important in his native New Mexico because of research facilities there. Some Clinton aides speculated that Richardson may be contemplating running for governor.

    With Energy Secretary Federico Peña retiring, Richardson will be the administration's most visible Hispanic American.

    Staff writer Al Kamen contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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