President-elect Bill Clinton, saying the nation needs steady hands in a "time of great change and challenge," named an experienced national security team Tuesday led by his transition director, Warren Christopher, as his designee for secretary of state.
Joining Christopher will be Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, as secretary of defense, and R. James Woolsey, a former Pentagon official and arms control expert who has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, as CIA director.
Other announcements included Anthony Lake, Clinton's chief foreign policy adviser during the campaign, as national security adviser and Madeleine Albright, a longtime Democratic foreign policy adviser and a professor at Georgetown University, as ambassador to the United Nations, a post Clinton said he would elevate to Cabinet status.
The names represent a clear choice by Clinton to favor continuity over change in the conduct of foreign relations. On the military side, Aspin has a reputation as a reformer and a critic of Pentagon spending priorities, but he also has the respect of many military officers for his expertise in the field.
For a young President with little past foreign policy experience, the choices seem to reflect a judgment that in the chaotic post-Cold War world, the chief goal for foreign policy should be to mitigate new problems as they arise rather than to embark on a bold new course.
"Our daily headlines suggest that not since 1968 has a new Administration faced more difficult foreign problems, but I am convinced that out of these nettles, we can pluck progress and greater security," Lake said.
While the announcements filled the foreign and national security side of Clinton's Cabinet, several domestic posts remained in flux. The President-elect has closed in on choices for attorney general and U.S. trade representative but faces a heated dispute pitting advocates for Latino groups and environmentalists against each other over who should head the Interior Department, officials said.
Suffering again from a hoarse throat, which Clinton blames on seasonal allergies from wreaths and Christmas trees, the President-elect kept his comments at the press conference limited. Christopher, who maintained a characteristically impassive face as Clinton praised his credentials, also spoke only briefly. He declined to answer any questions about the foreign policy priorities he will pursue, saying that he would defer comment on any such matters until the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds his confirmation hearings.
Aspin, however, who in his years in Congress earned a reputation for seldom passing up a chance to utter a quotable remark, dived into one of the hottest issues he will face at the outset of his job--gays in the military.
The current policy of banning gays "has got some serious flaws with it in terms of equity and in terms of fairness," he said. Given court decisions and changes in society, he added, the military would have had to deal with the question even if Clinton had lost the election.
But because Clinton has said he wants the policy changed, "there'll be no chance to sort of try and patch up the old program or sideslip the issue. We'll have to deal with it head on and that's a good thing," he said.
Aspin demurred, however, when asked how specifically he would address the issue, saying that "we need to get the team in place. We need to discuss it, and we need to work it out among ourselves."
In other high-level appointments, Clinton's choice for deputy national security adviser is Samuel (Sandy) Berger, a longtime friend of Lake and of Clinton and the head of Clinton's foreign policy transition team. The deputy secretary of state went to Clifton Wharton, former chancellor of the State University of New York. He will be the first black American to hold any of the department's top-ranking posts.
Clinton also said that retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., a key campaign supporter, will head the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, an outside advisory panel.
Much as President Bush did in choosing a national security team whose members had nearly all worked together in the Gerald R. Ford Administration, Clinton turned to the ranks of the last Democratic Administration to seek foreign policy advisers.
Christopher, Lake, Woolsey, Albright and Berger all served in the Jimmy Carter Administration in foreign policy posts, while Aspin has been a major congressional figure on defense and foreign policy issues.
Even Wharton, whose career has centered on foundations and education institutions--he also served as president of Michigan State University and head of the Rockefeller Foundation--has foreign policy credentials. He is, for example, a member of the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, and his father, Clifton R. Wharton Sr., served as the nation's first black career ambassador, representing the United States in Romania and Norway in the Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy administrations.
The President-elect defended the heavy reliance on familiar faces, saying it would be unfair to "say this is a team of retreads."
"I don't think that you can make change in an area this important unless you also know what needs to be maintained and unless you have people of real seasoning and judgment," Clinton said. The nation's foreign policy, he added, needs both "some continuity and some change."
Christopher, whom Clinton praised as a "person of unparalleled judgment," struck a similar chord, saying that "American foreign policy is a continuum" and pledging that the new Administration will continue "existing initiatives" in areas such as the Middle East peace talks and the military mission to Somalia.
Shortly after the election, when Christopher took on the job of transition director, he had indicated he would not take a post in the new Administration. Asked about that, Clinton said he initially believed Christopher was firm in his resolve and that he considered other candidates for the post--he would not say whom. But once Christopher indicated he would take the job, Clinton said, he considered no one else.
Asked why he had changed his mind, Christopher said he had assumed at the outset that he would return to Los Angeles after the transition ended but that Clinton "took me aside one night and asked me" and talked him into it. "I guess I'm just another of those who find Gov. Clinton to be very persuasive," he said.
But he left no doubt about the appeal of the job, which he had long sought and hoped for. "Today," he said, "I want to thank Gov. Clinton for making a dream come true."
Of the remaining Cabinet posts, Clinton has focused his search for an attorney general on one candidate, Washington attorney Brooksley E. Born, according to sources familiar with the process, but was awaiting completion of a background check before making a final decision.
The discussion on the Interior post centers on Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), who would be Clinton's second Latino Cabinet member, but whose appointment environmentalists have opposed. Latino leaders have lobbied heavily for Richardson over the last four days and met in Chicago on Tuesday with Clinton aides to push again for more Latino appointments.
Former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who had been the leading candidate for the Interior job, has told transition officials he would rather have the job of U.S. trade representative and is likely to receive the post, Clinton aides said.
Times staff writers Gebe Martinez in Los Angeles and Robin Wright and Ron Ostrow in Washington contributed to this story.
NOMINEE'S COOL HAND: Christopher took on crucial tasks for past presidents. A16
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An Experienced Lineup
Here are the major appointees announced Tuesday by President-elect Bill Clinton. He has set a self-imposed "Christmas deadline" to finish naming his cabinet.
Secretary of State: Warren Christopher, 67, is chairman on one of Los Angeles' best-known law firms. He served as Clinton's transition director and was the No. 2 man at the State Department under President Jimmy Carter.
Secretary of Defense: Les Aspin, 54, has been chairman of the House Armed Services Committee for seven years. He built a reputation as a defense expert partly on his efforts to expose Pentagon waste.
CIA Director: R. James Woolsey, 51, is a nuclear weapons expert who helped negotiate strategic arms-limitation and reduction treaties in the 1970s and 1980s.
U.N. Ambassador: Madeleine Albright, 55, is a professor of International affairs at Georgetown University and president of the Center for National Policy there.
National Security Adviser: Anthony Lake, 52, is a Mt. Holyoke College professor of International relations. He was director of policy planning in Carter's State Department.