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United States: A Post-Election Cabinet Shuffle Is In The Air

Washington, 7 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was hard at work in his office this week amidst expectations of an imminent White House press conference announcing his resignation and that of several other Cabinet members, including Defense Secretary William Perry.

President Bill Clinton has said he plans to hold a press conference soon to discuss personnel changes and other issues, following his sweeping victory in the polls Tuesday, electing him to a second four-year term in the White House.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are emphasizing continuity and stability in U.S. foreign policy, saying it is business as usual at the U.S. State Department.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Wednesday that Christopher is working hard on important issues confronting the United States.

Burns said Christopher's immediate agenda includes a consideration of various proposals on the crisis in Zaire, and preparations for a trip next week to Cairo and Paris, dealing respectively with economic development efforts in the Middle East and in Bosnia.

Burns said there is a lot of work to do on a range of policy issues from the peace process in the Middle East and Bosnia to relations with China.

Christopher will be making a trip to Beijing after he gets back from Paris and next month he plans to go to Europe for talks on NATO expansion and European Union issues.

"The Secretary plans to work as hard as he can on all these issues....He will certainly be here in the Department in December," Burns said.

He noted that the trips, foreshadowing similar travel plans by President Bill Clinton in November and December, send "a signal that we have an active, vigorous diplomacy and that will continue."

But he also acknowledged that Christopher has spoken to his staff about personnel matters, following a two-hour private conversation with Clinton on Tuesday.

According to press reports citing unnamed U.S. officials, Christopher will submit his resignation this week but has agreed to remain in office until Clinton's second-term inauguration in January.

A U.S. Pentagon official said Wednesday that Defense Secretary Perry has also told his staff he intends to resign but will be flexible about his departure date and stay at his desk until a successor can be appointed, even several months.

The official, who asked not to be named, was among those attending the staff meeting.

Both Perry, 69, and Christopher, 71, have maintained gruelling work and travel schedules and have made no secret of their desire to return to private life in California, home state to both of them.

Asked about the impact of a double departure of top foreign policy officials, State Department Burns said Clinton's re-election by what he called "a resounding margin...sends a signal of certainty and stability and certainly a signal of assurance to countries all around the world that American foreign policy continues at full throttle."

It's not unusual for a U.S. president in his second term to freshen the face of his administration with replacements of top officials and a thorough reshuffling of remaining personnel.

White House officials say Clinton is considering replacements of four to six Cabinet members. Their departures are likely to be announced all at once sometime after a Cabinet meeting tomorrow night.

But aides say the resignations would take place in stages to ensure a smooth transition.

There is no shortage of people wanting to fill the shoes of Perry and Christopher.

The names of possible successors to Christopher include former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, the chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords on Bosnia; Czech-born United Nations Ambassador Madeleine Albright; Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, the architect of U.S. policy toward Russia; and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

Mitchell is now Clinton's special envoy chairing peace talks on Northern Ireland.

He told reporters in Belfast Wednesday that he has not had any conversations with Clinton about becoming America's top diplomat. White House aides said Clinton might even turn to a Republican in a show of bipartisanship calculated to please the Republican-controlled Senate which must approve Clinton's nominee for Secretary of State.

Retired General Colin Powell has been mentioned in this connection, as well as Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), an influential member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The front-runner for Perry's job is thought to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Deutsch, who used to be Perry's deputy in the Pentagon.

Speculation has also focused on Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), and Deputy Secretary of Defense John White, the number two man in the Pentagon.