An article on the Federal Report page March 11 incorrectly identified Robert H. Kriebel's position at the Heritage Foundation. He is vice chairman.
Detente between the State Department and the conservative Heritage Foundation has collapsed. The incident rupturing relations was a Feb. 26 letter sent on official stationery by Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead to Heritage trustees urging that they resign because of the foundation's criticism of department policies. "If you disagree with their approach," he wrote, "then it seems to me you have to consider either changing that approach or resigning."
"Whitehead in his official capacity should not be using the power of the government to torpedo a private nonprofit organization over a policy disagreement," said Ben Hart, director of Heritage's lectures and seminars. "This episode may the biggest backfire at State since [Secretary George P.] Shultz's Lebanon policy."
"Unfortunately, the Whitehead letter was filled with innuendo and insults instead of specific responses to our criticisms," said Edwin Feulner, Heritage Foundation president.
"The State Department has no comment" about the Whitehead letter, said Charles Redman, the department's deputy spokesman. The letter was first described in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times.
For years, a Cold War has prevailed between the State Department and the conservative movement. After Ronald Reagan's election, conservatives felt frustrated and angry that their advice was going unheeded and that they were being passed over for important jobs in favor of career foreign service officers. The Heritage Foundation, acting as a kind of personnel office for the right wing, was at the pivot of the controversy.
On July 2, 1985, the foundation held a forum in which several conservative former U.S. ambassadors called for the resignation of Shultz. A transcript was published and distributed with the title: "The State Department vs. Ronald Reagan."
In an effort to quiet conservative plaints, Shultz launched a peace offensive. Whitehead, a former cochairman of the Goldman, Sachs & Co. investment banking firm who had contributed money to the Heritage Foundation and was close to some of its trustees, was placed in charge of this diplomatic initiative.
On Dec. 6, 1985, a summit was held at the State Department. Eleven Heritage officials and trustees exchanged frank views with various assistant secretaries of state. They also demanded more political appointments -- contending, according to Feulner, that there were "many career people encumbering those positions." But the State Department refused to yield. "To say there was no resolution would be an understatement," said Feulner.
After the meeting, the State Department agreed to send a special envoy to Heritage in the form of a "diplomat-in-residence." Such representatives are stationed at many think tanks. The placement of one at Heritage constituted a form of semiofficial recognition.
But the hopes of December were dashed in January, when Heritage published a paper by Hart entitled "Rhetoric vs. Reality: How the State Department Betrays the Reagan Vision."
Whitehead responded with his letter, asserting that the report was "filled with misstatement, inaccuracies and false innuendos . . . uninformed polemics and mischievous gossip . . . " He wrote that "I am really ashamed to have been regular contributor."
Robert H. Krieble, the Heritage chairman and longtime Whitehead friend, fired back a letter charging that "many" State Department officials have "agendas . . . priorities and possibly even . . . values [that] often differ from those of the President or the Secretary or yourself."
"I've been asking myself if I should give him Whitehead a call," said Feulner. "Since he started it, I'll wait to see if he gives me a call."
"If Whitehead and the State Department spend as much time fighting on Capitol Hill for the president's contra aid bill as they do fighting the president's supporters, they might get it," said Hart.