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The East: U.S. Senate To Query Diplomatic Nominees

Washington, 15 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Four senior diplomats nominated to play a key role in shaping U.S. policy toward Europe, Russia and the newly independent states in the region, today appear before a U.S. Senate Committee, inquiring into their appointments.

The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jesse Helms, will not be presiding over the confirmation hearing but is expected to be there to ask some sharp questions, particularly regarding President Bill Clinton's policy toward Russia.

Helms, a crusty Republican from the state of North Carolina who has been a senator for 25 years, is a longtime partisan critic of U.S. foreign policy in general and towards Russia in particular. Three of the appointees, if confirmed, will be dealing directly with Russia in their jobs.

Former U.S. ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman is the designated next Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs. But the title has little to do with present-day geography.

Grossman's responsibilities will include, at least nominally some of the most important issues of U.S. national interest - arms control and NATO, as well as relations with western and eastern Europe, Russia and all the countries of the former Soviet Union, stretching to the borders of China.

However, his two predecessors - Richard Holbrooke and most recently John Kornblum - spent most of their time traveling back and forth to the Balkans trying to make and keep the peace in Bosnia.

Grossman, a career diplomat with more than 20 years of service with the State Department, is expected to broadly outline to the Senate Committee his ideas for the job and whether he too plans to keep Bosnia a top priority.

John Kornblum will be sitting at the witness table with Grossman, awaiting confirmation on his nomination to be America's new ambassador to Germany. Kornblum has appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee many times in a career spanning 33 years with the State Department and is well-known by most of its members.

His early postings included Hamburg, Bonn and Berlin and Kornblum's confirmation as U.S. ambassador to Germany is expected to go through relatively easily.

But some senators may want to know more about his plans to deal with an independent -minded German government that at times differs from the U.S. in its views on Bosnia, NATO expansion and dealings with Russia.

The toughest questions are expected to be directed at Stephen Sestanovich, the man with the least diplomatic experience and most controversial views compared to his three fellow appointees.

Sestanovich is nominated to be Ambassador-at-Large and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State and the President on the new independent states of the former Soviet Union.

Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), who will chair today's hearing, says this nomination has raised "lively concern" among senators because of a perception that Sestanovich is heavily pro-Russia at the expense of other former Soviet Republics.

He is currently vice president for Russian and Eurasian affairs at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a leading private policy research institute.

Sestanovich's critics say that in this position, he has advocated U.S. support for a Russian sphere of influence across the former Soviet Union.

Smith was quoted in a recent Washington Post commentary as saying "Sestanovich seems to be saying that we (U.S.) should just cede to Russia those things that they feel are essential to them."

In writings over the past three years, Sestanovich has opposed NATO expansion because Russia opposes it. He wrote in an article last year that NATO expansion "dramatizes Russia's loss of standing" and citing the historical example of Finland, suggested support for a Russian zone of influence from the eastern edge of Poland to the border of Iran.

Some ethnic groups of Americans of central European descent have protested the nomination, saying that with these views, Sestanovich is not the right person to be the principal spokesman and coordinator for U.S. policy in the region.

The man currently on the job for more than three years is James Collins, another career diplomat of long standing. He also will testify at today's hearing - on his ability to carry out the duties of U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Washington observers say, that unlike Sestanovich, Collins will easily convince the senators of his fairness and fitness for the position. During his tenure, U.S. aid to Russia has declined and risen to non-Russian states. Collins also speaks Russian, as well as Turkish, and has previously served in Moscow at the U.S. embassy.