- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wasted little time yesterday in putting pressure on the Bush administration in one of the worlds crisis spots.
Chairing his first hearing since his party took control of the Senate this month, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, called for the United States and NATO to take a more active role in containing ethnic violence in Macedonia.
"It is clear to me that the United States must increase its involvement," Mr. Biden said yesterday.
"Like it or not, the reality is that only the U.S. has the necessary military and political credibility to successfully manage and resolve crises in the Balkans," he said.
This months shift in power in the Senate was perhaps most starkly illustrated in the changing of the guard in the Foreign Relations Committee, where the liberal Mr. Biden succeeds Sen. Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who set a consistently conservative agenda as committee chairman.
Mr. Bidens ascension poses new problems for President Bush, complicating the confirmation strategy for several diplomatic nominees and giving one of the Democrats most articulate speakers a new soapbox to press his views on issues in which he disagrees with the administration, from the Balkans to North Korea to missile defense.
The Senate hearing on the developing crisis in the Balkans yesterday came as Mr. Bush and other NATO leaders meeting in Brussels announced they were not ready to commit to a military role in Macedonia, where the government is battling an increasingly powerful insurgency by ethnic Albanian rebels.
Mr. Biden, who made a failed run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and has been rumored to be considering another run in 2004, has managed to forge a cordial working relationship with Mr. Helms.
Despite coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, the two were able to work together on a compromise U.N. reform package, the expansion of NATO and increased funding for the State Department during the Clinton administration. They have spoken repeatedly during committee hearings of their close personal relations as the Senates "odd couple."
"While I enjoyed the previous arrangement, the gavel is in capable and responsible hands," Mr. Helms said at the beginning of yesterdays hearing.
But Mr. Biden has also shown he is not afraid to challenge the new Bush administration on some of its most cherished foreign policy initiatives, notably Mr. Bushs plans for a defense system against ballistic missile attacks.
In an address last month to the World Affairs Council at the National Press Club, Mr. Biden questioned a number of aspects of the plan, from its price tag and technological feasibility to the response of China, Russia and other nuclear powers. Before the administration announced the resumption of talks with North Korea last week, Mr. Biden publicly criticized Mr. Bushs skeptical stance on South Korean President Kim Dae-jungs rapprochement with Pyongyang.
While Mr. Biden has supported research and development for a potential missile defense system, he is clearly far more skeptical than was Mr. Helms of the usefulness of the system and of Mr. Bushs diplomatic efforts to sell it abroad.
"Are we better off spending this much on national missile defense?" Mr. Biden asked. "Or should we spend at least some of it on modernizing our armed forces to meet more likely challenges, including terrorism?"
Committee watchers have speculated that Mr. Biden may have less trouble with the Republicans than with his fellow Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee. They include some of the chambers most liberal members, including Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

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