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Clinton Stands by Weld Choice Despite Helms' Reservations

By Helen Dewar
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

President Clinton is standing by Republican Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts as his choice for ambassador to Mexico despite objections to Weld from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., the White House reiterated Thursday.

But the road to confirmation could be long and difficult if Helms uses his considerable power to block the nomination and if there is no big push from either party on Weld's behalf.

"He has strong bipartisan support and we believe that we'll work through any concerns that may be out there successfully," White House spokesman Ann Luzatto said. Other Clinton aides said they have no intention of giving up on Weld and probably will not unless they receive strong signals from both parties that the nomination is doomed. They did not express great anxiety, noting the dispute is among Republicans and serves to underscore GOP divisions.

Earlier, Clinton press secretary Michael McCurry said Clinton has asked Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to meet with Helms in an attempt to allay his concerns.

Weld, who has not been officially nominated but has accepted Clinton's offer to succeed departing Ambassador James Jones, has said he is not worried.

Asked Wednesday about the issue, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Weld "might begin with an apology," noting he had read somewhere that Weld may have "said something unkind about the chairman." This may - or may not - have been a reference to a comment by Weld during his unsuccessful campaign against Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass.: Weld refused to say whether he would vote to retain Helms as Foreign Relations chairman if he were elected to the Senate.

Others have suggested Helms may be holding Weld hostage for his own policy initiatives, as he did with a group of ambassadorial nominations when he was pushing for a State Department reorganization bill. But Helms does not seem to be angling for anything now, and colleagues note he is rarely shy about telling the world what he wants when he takes hostages.

Still others said Helms was miffed the administration did not inform him of its intention to name Weld before the impending nomination was disclosed by the Boston Globe, although several sources said they doubted that was sufficient reason for Helms to oppose it.