Conservatives Block Action on Reagan Envoys

Times Staff Writer

A long-simmering dispute over efforts by conservatives to expand the ranks of politically appointed ambassadors boiled over at a Senate hearing Tuesday, with Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) charging that a “self-appointed band of ideological inquisitors” was blocking action on 26 diplomatic appointments.

“Not since the time of Joe McCarthy have we seen such attacks on the professional Foreign Service,” Cranston said, referring to the late Republican senator from Wisconsin who was censured by the Senate in 1954.

Cranston made the comment as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed until later this week a vote on the nomination of Assistant Secretary of State Richard R. Burt to be ambassador to West Germany.

The delay was requested by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who with eight other conservative Republican senators has placed “holds” on all senior diplomatic appointments-- indefinitely blocking floor action on them under a tradition known as senatorial courtesy.


The senators, who argue that ambassadors drawn from the career Foreign Service do not properly carry out the Reagan Administration’s conservative agenda, met Tuesday with Secretary of State George P. Shultz to discuss their complaints.

Political Appointee

Burt, now assistant secretary of state for European affairs, ironically is a political appointee. But he is a particular target of right-wing groups, who charge that he is too quick to seek accommodation with the Soviet Union on Eastern European issues. He came under attack at the hearing from David R. Funderburk, who was ambassador to Romania until last month.

Funderburk, a Helms protege, accused Burt of having carried out a policy of “concessions, compromise, conciliation and capitulation” and of having “helped prop up Communist tyrants” by arranging visits to those nations by Administration officials.


But Cranston, assistant majority leader, defended Burt and said he and other Democratic leaders would support President Reagan’s efforts to expedite the nominations.

Helms, who was chairing an Agriculture Committee hearing, did not attend the morning session. At his request, Burt and Ambassador to East Germany Rozanne Ridgway, who has been named to replace Burt, were recalled for afternoon testimony. Votes on two other ambassadorial nominations--Edwin Carr for El Salvador and Craig Johnstone for Algeria--also were delayed at Helms’ request.

Former Helms Employee

Liberal members of the committee got in their own licks as the nomination of a former Helms staff employee, Richard McCormack, to be ambassador to the Organization of American States drew an objection from Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who complained that he had been unable to attend a hearing at which McCormack testified.


Another conservative appointee, Nicholas Ruwe, who served as President Richard M. Nixon’s White House chief of staff, failed to win approval when six of 11 committee members voted “present” on his nomination as ambassador to Iceland. The American Academy of Diplomacy has judged Ruwe “unqualified.”

Seven of 13 nominees submitted for confirmation won committee approval. The highest ranking was John Whitehead, chairman of the New York investment firm of Goldman Sachs, who has been nominated as deputy secretary of state.

The others were Elliott Abrams, now assistant secretary of state for human rights, to be assistant secretary for inter-American affairs; John Ferch as ambassador to Honduras; Thomas Nassif as ambassador to Morocco; David Newton as ambassador to Iraq; Marvin Stone as deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency, and Lannon Walker as ambassador to Senegal.

Joining Helms’ effort are Republican Sens. Chic Hecht of Nevada, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Paula Hawkins of Florida, Steven D. Symms of Idaho, Phil Gramm of Texas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and James A. McClure of Idaho.