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Coverdell Joins Helms in Opposition to Weld as Ambassador to Mexico

By Helen Dewar
The Washington Post
Washington

A key Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday joined committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., in publicly opposing confirmation of former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) as ambassador to Mexico and called on President Clinton to withdraw Weld's nomination.

Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., chairman of the panel's subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere and international narcotics, criticized Weld's "confrontational" fight for the post, questioned his diplomatic skills and said the job requires "someone with significant experience" in U.S.-Mexican relations, especially in light of Mexico's problems with drug trafficking.

"It is my opinion that the situation in Mexico has escalated to such proportions that our ambassador should be for the foreseeable future in a category that calls for the most senior of foreign service officers, not unlike Moscow or Bosnia," Coverdell said in a statement after informing Clinton and Weld of his views last week.

Coverdell also joined Helms in questioning whether Weld, who has supported medicinal use of marijuana, is sufficiently committed to fighting drugs. "Whoever serves as ambassador to Mexico must also be seen as having an absolutely unquestioned commitment to the war on drugs," he said. "I do not think all of Gov. Weld's public actions and statements on this issue square with that requirement."

Coverdell's statement adds to the already roiling battle within the GOP over Weld's nomination. Helms has refused to schedule a confirmation hearing, claiming Weld is soft on drugs. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the panel's second-ranking Republican, has challenged Helms, demanded hearings and at one point suggested he could use his position as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee to retaliate against Helms.

It also undermines the argument that this is strictly a Helms vendetta against Weld, whose moderate social policies are anathema to the conservative North Carolinian. As secretary of the Senate Republican Conference, Coverdell is a member of the Senate GOP leadership.

Coverdell said he met with Weld three weeks ago and told him that "the confrontational and public nature of his campaign for this post" displayed a lack of diplomacy. "As someone who has been the subject of Senate confirmation himself, I believe that the process is in some ways, fairly or unfairly, an important test of these abilities."

"If the Foreign Relations committee would give Gov. Weld the opportunity he deserves to answer their questions in a committee hearing, he would amply demonstrate his qualifications for this job," said deputy press secretary Barry Toiv. "We believe there is a bipartisan support for a hearing and for his nomination.