Christopher could go in reshuffle at State Dept

AS A shake-up gathers pace in the State Department there is growing speculation about the future of Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State. Rumours that he will be replaced by September are being fuelled by the departure of three senior aides and dissatisfaction in the White House.

Senior officials are already being moved within the State Department's European bureau, its most important section, because of the failure to develop a coherent strategy towards Europe and, in particular, Bosnia. In the most important change Stephen Oxman, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian Affairs, is to be dismissed and replaced by Richard Holbrooke, the US ambassador to Germany.

A sign that Mr Christopher is on his way out, having survived criticism over his handling of Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti and China, is the departure of his top aides. These include Mark Grossman, his executive secretary, who is to become ambassador to Turkey, and Beth Jones, his top assistant, who is expected to follow her husband Tom Homan to Asia.

A third senior figure to leave the department is Alexander Vershbow, a Russian specialist and Mr Oxman's deputy. He will replace Jennone Walker at the National Security Council. The White House is also looking for a high- profile figure Congress would find convincing to take charge of dollars 2bn ( pounds 1.4bn) a year in aid to Russia. Mr Clinton has reportedly considered replacing Mr Christopher but last month decided it was the presentation and not the content of his foreign policy that was at fault. Rumours about Mr Christopher leaving reached such a volume before Mr Clinton's trip to Europe that he called the Los Angeles Times to deny them.

Nonetheless, the White House is disappointed in Mr Christopher and, ideally, would like to persuade somebody like General Colin Powell, the former chief-of- staff, who is articulate and popular, to take the job. The problem is that General Powell may refuse to do so, and also is an arch non-interventionist at a time when the administration is sliding towards using military force in Haiti.

Other replacements for Mr Christopher include the former vice-president, Walter Mondale, who is ambassador to Japan, though the White House might think him too difficult to control. Lee Hamilton, chairman of the House Committe on Foreign Affairs, is another possible candidate. Mickey Kantor, US Trade Representative, was also interested in the job.

Mr Clinton has so much political capital wrapped up in removing the junta in Haiti that, if sanctions fail, he has little choice but to invade. He may wish to have Mr Christopher out of the way before this happens.

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