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Key Foreign Policy Players

Not surprisingly, Bill Clinton is starting the second half of his presidency with an extensive reshuffling of his team. Some players were destined to go because of mediocre performance or taints of scandal. Others are simply ready to return to private life.

President Clinton's new Cabinet picks will set a tone for the next four years - and none of them more than his choices for the Departments of State and Defense. These offices will be critical during a second term that could be marked by a focus on events beyond America's borders.

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At the State Department, Warren Christopher has brought a thoughtful, low-key style to a job tossed by regional crises. One can argue that Mr. Christopher lacked the encompassing vision to give Clinton foreign policy coherence. But he never lacked for persistence in seeking a solution to such thorny problems as Bosnia and Middle Eastern peace.

Those problems remain for his successor, along with an array of others - humanitarian disaster in Central Africa, Russia and NATO expansion, tense relations with China, weakening allies in the Gulf. There are also the sticky problems caused by the administration's insistence on sacking United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as well as continuing fallout from the Helms-Burton Act, which was signed by Clinton largely for political reasons. The act attempts to penalize other countries (including close allies) who have economic dealings with Cuba.

The next secretary of State will face an even greater need to define US leadership in the world, especially since he or she will be working for a president who may now be more inclined to turn his attention overseas.

At the Pentagon, the opportunities and responsibilities parallel those at State in weight and urgency. The current departmental chief, William Perry, has commendably stabilized Clinton defense policy after its shaky start with former secretary Les Aspin. Mr. Perry built the administration's credibility with Congress, and he has begun the gargantuan task of charting a course for continued readiness and strength in a time of stringent budgets.

The next secretary will be responsible for a quadrennial review of US defense capabilities that could give crucial direction to a military that's being transformed by both a changing world and rapidly evolving technology. At the same time, the new top man at the Pentagon will have to address the likelihood of lengthened US involvement in Bosnia, new treaty relationships with Eastern Europe and Russia, and such exigencies as the threatened collapse of North Korea.

The people being talked about as possible replacements at State and Defense include former Sens. Sam Nunn and George Mitchell, both men of wide expertise and experience. The president also has capable candidates among his present staff, and we endorse, as well, the option of looking beyond partisan lines for fresh talent.

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