Confirmation of Holbrooke To U.N. Job Is Near, Helms Says

After nine months without a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the Senate is close to confirming veteran diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke for the post, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman said yesterday.

Holbrooke "probably will be confirmed in a week or so," said Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who some Holbrooke supporters had feared would block his confirmation.

Helms made the remark on the Senate floor while urging that payment of U.S. debts to the United Nations be tied to a plan to reform the world body and cut its budget. He noted approvingly that Holbrooke "strongly favors the reform of the United Nations."

President Clinton named Holbrooke, whose work helped bring peace to Bosnia, as his choice for the post a year ago. Bill Richardson left the job to become energy secretary in mid-September. But Clinton held up the formal nomination until February, while the departments of State and Justice investigated whether Holbrooke had violated conflict-of-interest laws. Holbrooke paid a $5,000 Justice Department fine for blurring his public and private roles during a trip to South Korea, but denied any wrongdoing.

Senate Backs Industry Loan Bill

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a $1.5 billion loan package to help tide over U.S. steel, oil and natural gas producers until their industries' prices recover.

The 63 to 34 vote to send the measure to the House sets the stage for a second showdown in the Senate next week on ways to help domestic steel producers hit by low-priced imports. The Senate is to take up a controversial bill Tuesday establishing steel quotas.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has promised a House vote on the loan bill, which would let steel companies borrow as much as $250 million and small oil and gas firms borrow up to $10 million. Those industries say they have suffered tens of thousands of layoffs because of sagging prices.

USDA Lifts Ban on Danish Pork

The Department of Agriculture yesterday ended its hold on imports of Danish pork, but left intact restrictions on other European poultry, egg and animal feed products because of possible contamination with PCBs or dioxin.

Spokeswoman Beth Gaston of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said the hold on Danish pork -- mostly ham -- had been released because "we have received information that gives us satisfactory assurance that the product is safe."

USDA and the Food and Drug Administration halted imports of a variety of European meat, poultry, egg and animal feed products earlier this month because of an ongoing scandal triggered when a Belgian processor distributed animal feed suspected of containing motor oil spiked with carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxin.