Gore's plans for top team less clear than rival's

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 November, 2000, 12:00am

Many Asian envoys have to come to know Al Gore as someone different from the glowing descriptions of the policy hound with the steel-trap mind. They have found the Vice-President vague and cautious, noting a reliance on briefing cards and embarrassing moments as he shuffles them for the right cue.

Some remember too a ham-fisted late appearance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Kuala Lumpur nearly two years ago that raised eyebrows from Canberra to Seoul. Showing little appreciation or understanding of regional nuances, Mr Gore apparently unwittingly offended his Malaysian hosts with comparisons of tensions in Kuala Lumpur to the Indonesian crisis.

While hailing voices of freedom, he managed to link the Doi Moi modernisation efforts of Vietnam's Communist Party - a process ultimately geared to securing one-party rule - with the 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines that forced the Marcos regime into exile.

Yet, for all that, he has worked closely on foreign policy in eight years with President Clinton, including engagements with China and the Kosovo conflict. Having had a long interest in arms control, Mr Gore has been personally involved in America's controversial engagement with Russia.

White House sources say that unlike his boss, he devours intelligence reports and rather than surrounding himself with friends and allies, he prefers a small number of close, professional advisers. While less bullish on missile defence plans than his rival George W. Bush, Mr Gore speaks openly of promoting American ideals and values abroad, along with human rights and environmental protection.

Likewise, his desire for trade that is both 'free and fair' will be closely watched across the region.

If he wins, as an incumbent he may not make so many changes as Mr Bush, or will make them more slowly. His choices are less clear than Mr Bush, whose lack of experience has already seen him shape a formidable team.

Mr Gore is expected to lean most heavily on Leon Fuerth, a former engineer who has served as his National Security Adviser in the White House. A cautious and measured diplomat, Mr Fuerth has worked with Mr Gore for 20 years.

His replacement for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will be closely monitored. A top favourite is the ambitious, creative and at times acerbic veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke. A prominent former deputy assistant of state for east Asia and the Pacific, Mr Holbrooke is well known across the region, from Jakarta to Hanoi and Beijing. More recently, he played a key role in forging peace in Bosnia and is current US ambassador to the United Nations, working to convince the United States Senate to make sure America pays it dues.

Mr Gore's choice of defence secretary is the subject of considerable debate. Several senators are possibilities, most notably former senator Sam Nunn and current Michigan representative Carl Levin.

CIA chief George Tenet is expected to remain in that most sensitive post should Mr Gore win, but he may have to find a replacement for Charlene Barshefsky as trade representative - a job which could prove controversial in a Gore administration. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers is also expected to remain.

Some foreign diplomats believe Mr Gore may also find a special use for the charisma of a retired Mr Clinton in foreign policy from time to time, perhaps as a special envoy in peace talks.