The State Department said yesterday that the nomination of Frederick "Frecky" Vreeland to be U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, formerly Burma, would be withdrawn, citing a decision by the Myanmar government to reject him because of his criticism of human rights violations there.
Vreeland's nomination had run into trouble in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) amid allegations that he had misled Congress about his career and that, when stationed in Rome, he had attempted to deflect suspicions about a Soviet and Bulgarian connection in the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.
Several committee members were upset because the administration had submitted his nomination with a "cover" biography that listed him as a career Foreign Service officer instead of a Central Intelligence Agency official, according to administration and committee sources.
"A number of members were privately dismayed at having been put in the position of having to approve a man with this background in such a sensitive post," a committee source said.
State Department officials insisted that the submission of the cover resume was unintentional, and they described it as coincidental that the Myanmar government's rejection came amid the other allegations.
There was "absolutely no game plan to engineer this with the Burmese to get us off the hook," a senior State Department official said.
But D'Amato responded by saying, "If you believe that is the reason he withdrew, then you believe the moon is made out of green cheese." D'Amato said he would pursue the question of a Soviet-Bulgarian connection in the assassination attempt with the Bulgarian government.
The sometimes somnolent post in Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is considered important now because of political tension there. Opposition party leaders, attempting to move the country toward democracy after decades of military dictatorship, have been placed under house arrest, and ruling military leaders have claimed interference in their nation's affairs by U.S. and other ambassadors.
Vreeland, 63, is the son of the late Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and a friend of President Bush's. He worked in Bush's campaign in 1988, seeking support among Americans living abroad, sources said. Vreeland did not return a telephone call from a reporter yesterday.
Department officials said that, following normal procedures for ambassadorships, the Myanmar government agreed to receive Vreeland when his nomination was first proposed. But the Myanmar government called in U.S. officials in Yangon yesterday and said he would not be accepted, citing criticisms he had made in public testimony on the human rights situation in Myanmar.
Vreeland's nomination was considered by the committee, partly in closed session, on Monday, but D'Amato obtained a postponement of a vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday. In a letter to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the committee's ranking minority member, D'Amato said, "I believe that there are serious questions concerning Mr. Vreeland that deserve more thorough examination than was possible at this morning's hearing." The committee had scheduled another hearing for next Tuesday.
D'Amato's concerns focused on allegations that Vreeland, while stationed in Rome in the early 1980s, had attempted to steer reporters away from pursuing a connection between Soviet and Bulgarian agents and the man convicted of shooting the pope, Mehmet Ali Agca. Agca at one point implicated Bulgarian officials but later changed his story. Italian authorities arrested but later freed three Bulgarians charged in the case.