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Reorganized State Department Will Accomodate Republicans

By John F. Harris and Thomas W. Lippman
The Washington Post

President Clinton Thursday approved a broad reorganization of the State Department and three other foreign affairs agencies, a move that administration officials said was spurred in part by the need to accommodate congressional Republicans and keep them from thwarting Clinton's foreign policy agenda.

Under a plan crafted by Vice President Gore and endorsed by Clinton in an Oval Office meeting Thursday afternoon, two currently independent agencies - the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the U.S. Information Agency - would lose their autonomy and be folded into the State Department, according to officials involved in the decision.

A third organization, the Agency for International Development, would remain a separate agency, but its director would report to the Secretary of State rather than to the president as current law allows, the officials said.

The reorganization, which officials said would be announced soon, is a longstanding priority of Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and the president's decision came on the same day the administration won Helms's consent to allow a treaty banning chemical weapons to come to the floor of the Senate next week for a vote.

Reshuffling the nation's foreign policy bureaucracy and persuading Helms not to unilaterally torpedo a treaty that he adamantly opposes was not part of an explicit bargain, administration officials said.

But White House aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, readily acknowledged that Helms's insistence on reorganizing the State Department helped push the decision to closure. And they are hoping that Clinton, in moving ahead with the decision, will win some good will among Republicans at a time he urgently needs it.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, already ratified by 72 other countries, takes effect on April 29, and administration officials are lobbying frantically to ensure Senate passage before then. Failure to do so would subject the United States to sanctions, administration officials said, as well as being a humiliating repudiation of Clinton.

Helms is still opposed to the treaty, but an administration official said Thursday night that Clinton's decision to take into account Republican criticisms would help create "an environment in which more people will be favorably inclined" to support the treaty.

In any case, the official said, "Helms has made it absolutely clear that this was a quid pro quo" and that unless Clinton moved to reorganize, he would try to trip the administration at every turn on a broad range of issues.

A Helms aide Thursday night sounded triumphant. "This is a huge victory, and we've conceded nothing on chemical weapons," said Marc Thiessen, a spokesman for Helms.

In principle, the administration plan sounds much like what Helms wants, he said, but "the devil is in the details," which the administration will have to negotiate with Congress.

Legislation for the reorganization has not yet been drafted, and officials could not say how many jobs will be eliminated as the State Department bureaucracy is pruned in the merger with other agencies. Initial cost savings will be modest, according to an administration official involved in drafting the proposal.

White House officials made clear their view that there are sound policy reasons for the reorganization regardless of Helms's views. Gore and his staff shepherded the reorganization as part of the "Reinventing Government" program he has championed, aimed at streamlining and modernizing the way federal agencies work.

As a practical matter, however, the plan Gore ultimately unveiled strongly resembled one offered by Helms two years ago. Conservatives like Helms are broadly skeptical of both international development and disarmament, and both AID and the arms control agency have been favorite targets for years. The administration fought Helms tooth and nail over his proposal throughout 1995.