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New No. 2 At State Dept. Could Trumpet Foreign Policy

WITH Strobe Talbott in the No. 2 job at the State Department, the Clinton administration may be moving to fix what officials judge is one of their largest foreign-policy problems: communication.

A frustrated White House has long worried that it wasn't getting the word out about its foreign-policy successes. In particular, officials felt that this fall too much attention focused on stumbling United States action in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Meanwhile, the US got little credit for steady work in areas such as aid to Russia and management of trade relations with Japan.

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Mr. Talbott is an expert at the interaction of policy and publicity. As deputy secretary of state, an appointment expected to be announced Dec. 28, he would bring media savvy to a job usually held by unobtrusive bureaucratic managers.

As far as Secretary of State Warren Christopher is concerned, it also can't hurt that Talbott is a major FOB, or Friend of Bill's. President Clinton and Talbott met at Oxford University in England, where they both were Rhodes scholars. Criticism of Clinton administration foreign policy has already taken down one Cabinet official, Defense Secretary Les Aspin, and Mr. Christopher appears determined to not suffer the same fate.

Currently Talbott serves as special ambassador at large and adviser on Russia and the other former Soviet republics. He was picked over more senior officials for the No. 2 post.

It is not a foregone conclusion, of course, that communication is the administration's major foreign-policy problem. And as adviser on Russia, Talbott has been a large force in the formation of an aid policy that is now under review as a result of the strong showing by nationalist forces in the recent Russian election.

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