Pentagon deputy gets defence job

PRESIDENT Bill Clinton yesterday chose Willam J Perry, number two at the Pentagon, to be his Defense Secretary, ending an embarrassing week for the White House during which three people rejected the job of replacing Les Aspin, who was fired in December.

In 66-year-old Mr Perry - an academic close to the Pentagon and electronics industry - Mr Clinton has chosen a candidate who would be popular with the military and Congress. 'Bill Perry is a real pro - you can depend on him,' Mr Clinton said.

It was the second time in six weeks that Mr Clinton had spoken in glowing terms about his nominee for defence. Last week Bobby Ray Inman, his first choice, withdrew claiming he was the victim of a press conspiracy. Having originally billed the appointment of Mr Inman as a masterstroke, the White House was clearly eager to replace him with an uncontroversial nominee.

Mr Perry has been in charge of reforming the Pentagon's acquisition budget, rather than of policy. Former Pentagon officials rate his political skills highly. One said: 'He will be much cleverer than Aspin at assuring Congress that he will cut the military budget but in practice introducing only limited change.' The Joint Chiefs of Staff support his appointment, a sign they do not expect him to pursue serious reforms.

Mr Clinton was in a snappish mood as he introduced Mr Perry yesterday, rounding on a reporter who asked what qualities the new Defense Secretary would bring to the job that Mr Aspin lacked. Mr Clinton said such questions were answered in December - when Mr Inman was the nominee. Even Mr Perry's acceptance of the job was in doubt; only on Sunday was the White House sure of him.

Mr Perry will be in a strong position in dealing with the White House because Mr Clinton will want to show that he has got a grip on national security policy after setbacks in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti. But the firing of Mr Aspin is seen in Washington as a victory for the military establishment and - on budgets and the use of force - Mr Perry will line up with the Joint Chiefs. On the issue of cutting expenditure, Mr Perry's support for hi-tech weapons when he was at the Pentagon under Jimmy Carter is an ominous precedent.

(Photograph omitted)

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