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Mr. Nixon's opportunity

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has properly decided not to stand in the way of confirmation of Alexander Haig as secretary of state while the politically sticky Watergate issue is being examined. It woud disserve the national interest to begin a new administration without the secretary of state in place. Many crucial diplomatic problems -- civil war in El Salvador, turmoil in the Gulf region, uncertainty in Poland, NATO preparedness, SALT, relations with Iran (especially if the hostage crisis continues), to name a few -- await early attention. Mr. reagan as president will want to set directions in foreign policy with no less dispatch, decisiveness, and care than on the domestic front and will need the nation's chief diplomat at his side.

At the same time the Senate committee has correctly recognized its obligation to go into the Watergate record sufficiently to lay at rest lingering questions about General Haig's fitness of character to be secretary of state. Republicans joined Democrats in subpoenaing logs summarizing some of the WAtergate tapes with a view to conducting, in Senator Percy's words, "a thorough and complete" examination of General Haig's background. National Archivist Robert Warner has said he will supply the index provided Richard Nixon does not object before next Saturday -- a right the former president has under the law.

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In the interests of an expeditious completion of the Haig hearings, it is to be hoped Mr. Nixon does not raise any objections to release of the logs. He himself knows from personal experience how difficult, even impossible, it is to conduct the affairs of state with an unresolved problem hovering in the background and preoccupying thought. While General Haig would begin office with the nation's confidence in his sturdy capacities, his performance could be impaired by the inability of the committee to finish its task because of a long-drawn-out legal battle over access even to the tape logs. Watergate would continue to cloud the atmosphere.

Surely Mr. Nixon does not want such a start for a new Republican administration and a new national leader to whom he has given his support. If there are things in the Watergate tapes which, if aired, would be painful to him , he knows at least that the absolute pardon given him covers all offenses against the United States which he "has committed or may have committed" in the period in question. Any personal embarrassment or discomfiture would certainly be overshadowed by public approbation for the patriotic willingness displayed not to obstruct the democratic nominating process but to serve the national interest.

To say this is not to want to dredge up sordid Watergate details or to keep the issue alive. On the contrary, it is to speed up the hearings and have done with them that Mr. Nixon's cooperation is urged. It would be up to the Senate committee, armed with the logs and with the material being supplied from White House files, and working in a bipartisan spirit, to look only at what is relevant and to do so with a sense of perspective and judiciousness. The American people would expect no less.

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