US diplomats jockey for plum London posting

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The Independent Online
The New York financier and Democratic party eminence grise, Felix Rohatyn has joined the list to succeed William Crowe in the plum post of US ambassador to London, when the former Joint Chiefs chairman steps down this autumn.

Hitherto Mr Rohatyn, managing director of Lazard Freres in New York, had been considered a leading candidate to take over the Paris embassy, vacant after the death last month of Pamela Harriman. But he is now being canvassed for a post made especially sensitive by the near certainty of the first Labour government in two decades and the close US involvement in the search for a settlement in Northern Ireland.

The public front-runner remains Swanee Hunt, youngest daughter of the Texas oil tycoon, HL Hunt, and currently ambassador to Austria. Indeed, the 46-year-old Ms Hunt, a massive donor to President Clinton's 1992 campaign, is said to have "measured the drapes" during a recent stop-over at Winfield House, the ambassador's residence in London.

Ms Hunt, whose personal worth has been put at up to $500m (pounds 300m), has been a dynamic envoy in Vienna and is close to Madeleine Albright, the new Secretary of State. But some question whether she has sufficient experience for the London post. Another non-diplomat mentioned for the job is Reed Hundt, currently head of the Federal Communications Commission here, and a friend of Mr Clinton from their Yale Law School days.

The London Ambassadorship is but one element in the traditional diplomatic reshuffle at the start of a new administration. John Kornblum, Assistant Secretary of State for Euro- pean and Canadian affairs in Mr Clinton's first term, is tipped for Bonn, while Frank Wissner, US Ambassador to Delhi, heads the list for Paris, should Mr Rohatyn go to London.

James Collins, a former US deputy chief of mission in Mos-cow and currently the State Department's top specialist on countries of the former Soviet union, is in line to return to Russia to succeed Thomas Pickering, who is returning as Under- secretary for Political Affairs, the third-ranking post at State.

In Tokyo, outgoing Ambassador Walter Mondale may be followed by the Democratic House Speaker, Tom Foley. In the past, the notably Anglophile Mr Foley has been tipped for London. But he would satisfy Japan's traditional preference that a prestigious ex-politician represent the US in its capital.