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United States: Who Gets The Top Jobs In January?

Washington, 4 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Political Washington is abuzz with rumors and speculation about who will be out and who will be in government next January when the newly elected U.S. president takes office and forms his government.

If the Republicans win the presidency, there would be a mass changeover at the White House, in the Cabinet and among the 2,600 politically-appointed senior bureaucrats in government.

Even if President Bill Clinton is re-elected, as public opinion polls confidently predict, changes in the top echelons of government will take place.

Several high-ranking policy-makers, including White House chief of staff Leon Panetta and senior presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos, have already announced they will not stay for a second Clinton term.

And it has long been rumored that septuagenarian Secretary of State Warren Christopher wants to return to private life in California and watch his great grandchildren grow.

That could mean a lot of shifting and shoving, with officials vying to move up into newly-vacated positions, resulting in a possible wholesale change in government.

Some newly-elected presidents issue a formal request for resignations of all Cabinet members and senior officials, including country ambassadors, to give themselves more latitude to decide who will stay and who will go, and who should be rewarded with a plum job.

It's not clear yet what Clinton would do, and a lot of powerful people in Washington have begun to nervously eye their mailboxes.

White House spokesman Michael McCurry has no calming words of reassurance for them. He says people will have to remain in suspense until after the election.

McCurry says "no one knows what is going to happen" and that "Clinton has made it absolutely clear that he doesn't want to entertain these discussions until after the election."

Clinton's aides say that if re-elected, Clinton will first start thinking about new appointments during a two-week trip to Asia beginning next week.

That's the official position. But unofficially, Washington insiders say they know the name of the next Secretary of State, the new National Security Adviser, even the new U.S. ambassador to Russia to replace Thomas Pickering, who ended his tour of duty last week.

Our Washington correspondent has diligently tracked the rumors, scanned the gossip columns and listened to streams of speculative assertions from people claiming impeccable sources. Here is the best guess for a post-election scenario:

Clinton's secretary of state

Christopher's house in Washington is said to be up for sale and he probably will retire in January when the new administration takes over.

At least half a dozen people are panting for his job -- the most prestigious Cabinet post -- including America's ambassador to the United Nations, Czech-born Madeleine Albright, and national security adviser Anthony Lake.

But the man most frequently mentioned as Christopher's likely replacement is former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell from the U.S. state of Maine. After 15 years in the U.S. Senate, he resigned last year, briefly considered an offer to become Baseball Commissioner and then accepted a U.S. presidential appointment to head an international committee mediating peace talks in Northern Ireland.

Mitchell reportedly became a favorite with Clinton after playing the role of Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole in practice debates to help Clinton prepare for the televised event.

The rest of Clinton's team

Good ties with Congress is considered to be an important selection criteria, especially if the Republican party retains control over the U.S. Senate and thus the approval process required to confirm presidential appointments to top government positions.

The rumor mill on other members of Clinton's second-term foreign policy team has Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott moving to the White House to become Clinton's new national security adviser.

But after that, the scenario branches off into several possible versions.

It all hinges on Defense Secretary William Perry, who was initially expected to leave in January. But now, some insiders say he will be asked to remain in office one year to oversee the struggle to expand NATO, reportedly because he deals well with the Russians and they like him.

That puts the brakes on John Deutsch, head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who has made no secret of the fact that he wants Perry's job.

If Deutsch stays put, Anthony Lake can't take over the CIA and has nowhere to go from the White House except back into the academic life from whence he came. That's a distinct possibility, says one source.

Some of the speculation floating around Washington has Albright leaving her job at the United Nations for an as yet unspecified destination to make room for Richard Holbrooke, the former Assistant Secretary of State, who gained prestige and prominence after negotiating the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia.

But McCurry points out that "the speculation may be completely wrong," and that "the big news may be that there is not that much of a change."

However, at a lower level of government in the echelons of top diplomats there are certain to be changes.

U.S. ambassadors in Tokyo, London and Paris reportedly want to come home and three of the most important ambassadorships are already vacant -- Germany, Canada and as of this week, Russia.

The inside tip on a replacement for Thomas Pickering is a career State Department official who already spent several years at the U.S. embassy in Moscow as the second in command there. It's James Collins, currently in charge of coordinating aid to the newly-independent countries of the former Soviet Union. He is regarded as a competent manager and good administrator.

A Dole foreign policy team?

Almost no one is talking about the kind of government a President Robert Dole would form. But just in case all the polls are wrong and Dole wins tomorrow's election on a late surging tide of Republican support, here is what is known of his foreign policy team.

One of his principal advisers, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), says Dole would appoint a Cabinet of "dear old friends," mostly familiar faces from the 1980s who served in the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

During the election campaign, Dole has relied heavily on former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker, several former Defense Secretaries, and former ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick, 69, would be the leading contender for Dole's future Secretary of State. She is best known for advocating hard-line policies toward the Soviet Union during her tenure in office in the 1980s. She still talks tough. At a luncheon with Washington reporters recently, Kirkpatrick urged a stronger national missile defense. She said Dole is committed to deploying such a system while Clinton is only studying plans.

Paul Wolfowitz, 52 and Assistant Secretary of State in the Reagan era, later Undersecretary of Defense involved in planning the 1991 Persian Gulf War, could be in line for the top job at the Pentagon if Dole would win.

Other younger members of Dole's foreign policy team might include Paula Dobriansky, a former Soviet specialist in the National Security Council and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights during the Bush presidency.

Some of Dole's major foreign policy speeches were written by a Croatian American, Mira Baratta, 36, who is believed to have been influential in shaping Dole's views on Bosnia and getting his support for the Kosovo ethnic Albanians in Serbia.

Another foreign policy adviser is Randy Scheunmann who worked for Dole in the Senate in the early 1990s. Scheunmann is now back in the Senate working for Dole's successor -- Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi).