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Pickering Named Ambassador to Russia

January 27, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Thomas Pickering, a career diplomat who served as President Bush’s U.N. ambassador during the Persian Gulf War, was named ambassador to Russia by President Clinton on Tuesday.

Pickering, 61, is the first to have held Cabinet-level rank in a previous Republican administration to get a high-profile assignment under Clinton.

Pickering, currently ambassador to India, will work closely with Strobe Talbott, whom Clinton earlier named as coordinator of U.S. aid to the former Soviet republics, said White House communications director George Stephanopoulos.

The Moscow post has been vacant since last fall when Bush appointee Robert Strauss, a former U.S. trade representative and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, resigned.

Pickering goes to Moscow at a time of great economic and political uncertainty there. ″There’s no more important challenge than assisting our Russian friends as they attempt to create democratic institutions and a free market system,″ Stephanopoulos said.

Strauss called the nomination ″a splendid appointment″ and said he planned to send a message to Russian President Boris Yeltsin saying the career diplomat was the right man for the job. ″I’m certain that, as he gets to know Tom Pickering as the rest of us have, that he will come to rely on him and his judgement,″ Strauss said in an interview.

The nomination comes on the same day that the Senate confirmed Clinton’s choice for U.N. ambassador, Georgetown University international affairs professor Madeleine K. Albright.

A member of the foreign service since 1959, Pickering has had high-level jobs in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations. He has been ambassador to Israel, Jordan, El Salvador and Nigeria.

Pickering is one of only four career diplomats in the State Department’s foreign service to hold the rank of career ambassador - the diplomatic equivalent of a five-star general.

Stephanopoulos said the appointment was in line with the intention of both the president and Secretary of State Warren Christopher to give a share of important foreign-policy posts to career diplomats rather than to political appointees.

He said, ″President Clinton has always been against quotas, but ... We look forward to supporting the career foreign service when we can.″

Earlier, Clinton moved to keep two assistant secretaries of state from the Bush administration - Edward P. Djerejian as assistant secretary for near east affairs and Bernard Aronson as assistant secretary for inter-American affairs.

Clinton met with Pickering in Little Rock last month and ″was deeply impressed by his knowledge and wisdom,″ Stephanopoulos said.

Pickering played a brief role in the Iran-Contra affair. According to his own testimony before a congressional investigating committee, he assisted in arranging a secret donation of more than $1 million in military equipment to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels at a time when a congressional prohibition on Contra aid was in effect.

Bush named Pickering to the U.N. post soon after taking office in January 1989. He served there until last spring, maintaining a very visible presence through the Persian Gulf hostilities.

Pickering served as envoy to Jordan in the early 1970s and was U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Reagan administration.

Pickering found himself in the hot seat at the United Nations during the U.S.-led military action that reversed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

However, some administration officials suggested that his profile became so high at the United Nations that he ran afoul of then-Secretary of State James A. Baker III and as a result wound up with the less demanding assignment to India.