WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed the nomination of Melissa Wells to be ambassador to Mozambique, 64 to 24, defeating a nearly yearlong effort by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) to alter the Reagan Administration's policy toward the Marxist government of the Southeast African nation.
"It's been worth the wait," said Wells, who was nominated for the post last Oct. 7, breaking a 1985 record of 10 months for Senate delay.
The Senate earlier voted 65 to 24 to limit debate to 30 hours, blocking a threatened filibuster by Helms. The North Carolinian declared that his quarrel was not with Wells but with the State Department for its refusal to negotiate with the anti-communist resistance movement, RENAMO.
"She's a delightful lady but she'll be operating under the State Department," Helms told his colleagues.
When the Senate also voted down his effort to include a condemnation of the Mozambican government in the Congressional Record, Helms said he fears Senate support of the Administration's policy in Mozambique could lead to a shift in Angola, where the United States has officially backed anti-communist dissidents and refused to recognize the Marxist regime in that West African state.
In an interview, Helms bitterly accused Secretary of State George P. Shultz of stonewalling on U.S. policy toward Mozambique. He said he and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Senate minority leader, tried to persuade Shultz to change his view and meet with RENAMO "freedom fighters" last spring.
"He listened to us and it was like talking to that table," he said. "He said: 'I'll get get back to you,' and that's the last I've heard from him," the North Carolinian said.
(Dole voted with Helms against cloture but switched sides and backed the nominee on the final vote.)
Asked what reaction President Reagan had shown at a private meeting shortly afterward, Helms declared:
"It was like I was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Greek. The President absolutely lets George Shultz dictate in this policy. I use the word dictate advisedly--George Shultz just never tells the President the other side."
Helms warned in floor debate and repeated in an interview that he fears U.S. support for the Marxist regime in Mozambique could lead to withdrawal of aid for the anti-communist Union for the Total Independence of Angola, led by Jonas Savimbi.
The United States has refused thus far to recognize the Marxist government of Angola, but Chester A. Crocker, assistant secretary of African Affairs, visited the Angolan capital, Luanda, this past weekend. Wells, 60, previously served as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and to Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in West Africa. Most recently, she was detached for service as the United Nations Development Program representative in Uganda.
Born in Eastern Europe, she came to the United States when her mother, Miliza Korjus, was brought to Hollywood by the late Irving Thalberg to star in "The Great Waltz" in 1938.
Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) split on the confirmation vote, Cranston for and Wilson against.