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After Lefever

The withdrawal of Ernest Lefever gives President Reagan an opportunity to appoint a chief human rights adviser who is no less politically compatible but free of the liabilities that doomed Mr. Lefever. We are not in the nomination business, but names come to mind as exemplifying a realistic combination from the White House point of view. Two of them are Rita Hauser and Max Kampelman.

Mrs. Hauser, a lawyer, worked vigorously for United States ratification of human rights treaties as representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights during the Nixon presidency. She has spoken on behalf of a Reagan policy she sees as deeply committed to human rights without posturing.

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Mr. Kampelman, a lawyer who serves on the executive committee of the Committee on the Present Danger, is known for denunciations of the Soviet Union and for efforts against discrimination in the US. He has recently been in the forefront of support for the human rights aspects of the Helsinki declaration as US delegate to the Madrid conference.

The human rights approaches of such advocates might not suit some of the senators who found Mr. Lefever's policies too unassertive, especially in relation to abuses by regimes friendly to the United States. But, if Mr. Lefever's policies alone had been the issue, the Senate could well have gone along, as it usually does, to give a president the nominee he wants. The difficulty was that questions about credibility and conflict of interest mounted to the point where Republicans joined with Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee to reject Mr. Lefever's nomination as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs. Though the White House had said it would back him in a floor fight, even a victory there would have left him so undercut in effectiveness that it was wise for him to withdraw.

Now the decks are clear for moving forward, with the Reagan administration forewarned that the American people and their representatives do not want their nation's human rights banner to be smudged or hauled down. There is room for ensuring that rhetoric does not outstrip deeds, that standards be applied consistently, that quiet diplomacy be maintained where it is the best means. But the wrong signals should not be sent. The administration's stated commitment to human rights should not be belied by an inferior choice for the key post that now is vacant.

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