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Democrats gain clout on foreign policy

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Having recaptured control of the Senate and, with it, the chairmanship of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrats are now faced with major opportunities - but also with major risks. Democrats are eager to use their new majority status on the committee to effect a major course change in United States foreign policy, veering away from President Reagan's hard-line policies on Central America and steering toward more-stringent arms control measures.

Congressional sources predict that in coming months the Foreign Relations Committee will hold highly publicized oversight hearings to investigate the Reagan administration's arms sales to Iran and allegations of illegal conduct by US officials in aiding Nicaraguan rebel groups.

[The Iran issue has caused divisions within the Reagan administration. But yesterday the White House announced it was united with Secretary of State George Shultz on Iran policy. Story, Page 2.]

But observers warn that heightened partisanship within the committee could undermine the panel's authority. Outgoing chairman Richard G. Lugar (R) of Indiana is widely credited with restoring the committee to a position of influence in US foreign policy after what some observers view as a period of decline in the panel's prestige.

Analysts also caution that by charting too liberal a course, the committee could undermine Democratic prospects for recapturing the White House in 1988.

``To the extent [committee Democrats] become successful in defining the foreign policy agenda for the party as a whole, there may be electoral risks for the party going into 1988,'' says Michael Malbin, a government professor at the University of Maryland.

``If Republicans can brand the Democrats as returning to the post-Vietnam period when they were unwilling to project American power anywhere, then the position of the Democratic Party could be weakened,'' Professor Malbin says.

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