WASHINGTON — Yielding to the determined opposition of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), President Clinton on Tuesday abandoned his nomination of Robert Pastor, a close associate of former President Jimmy Carter, to be ambassador to Panama.
For Pastor, the withdrawal ends eight months in diplomatic limbo. Clinton named him to the sensitive post on May 18, but the appointment was bottled up by Helms, even though the committee was controlled by Democrats until the new Congress convened last month.
With Helms wielding even more power as committee chairman, the President decided that there was no hope of winning confirmation of Pastor.
One senior Administration official said it was time to pick an ambassador who could be confirmed because the Panama post has been vacant for nearly a year. However, the White House did not name a replacement for Pastor.
In a letter made public by the White House, Clinton told Pastor that he is "certain that you would have served your country with great distinction and honor in that important post."
The White House said Pastor requested that his name be withdrawn. A Helms aide said that the senator believes Pastor misled Congress during hearings on ratification of the Carter Administration treaty transferring the Panama Canal to Panamanian ownership at the end of this century. Helms opposed the treaty, which he said was a "giveaway" of American property and influence.
Pastor, as National Security Council expert on Latin America under Carter, was instrumental in negotiating the canal pact.
Helms also criticized Pastor's role in Carter's free-lance mediation of the deal that restored President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti. Pastor, director of the Latin American and Caribbean program of the Carter Center in Atlanta, accompanied Carter to Haiti for the talks that persuaded Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras to relinquish power to Aristide.
Pastor, who holds a doctorate from Harvard, is the author of nine books and more than 200 articles on U.S. foreign policy.