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Senate whip-snapper

At the United Nations, they don't have a lot of nice things to say about Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs investigations subcommittee, the first-term senator who called for Kofi Annan's resignation because of the U.N. official's role in the oil-for-food program in Iraq.

But they might have to start sweet talking soon enough.

Mr. Coleman is tapped by insiders as likely to take over the international economic policy, export and trade promotion subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a perch that would give him direct oversight of U.N. affairs for the Senate.

"Aw, wouldn't that be fun," said an aide in the senator's office when asked about the possibility. He indicated that the thought had never crossed the senator's mind or that of anyone else in the office.

But people who watch the complex calculus of subcommittee assignments say Mr. Coleman is something of an odds-on favorite for the post.

Subcommittee assignments are awarded through a mix of seniority and interest. If, as appears likely, the more senior senators on the Foreign Relations Committee snatch up the Western Hemisphere, European and the newly popular Near Eastern and South Asia portfolios, Mr. Coleman will have a clear shot at the international policy subcommittee, most recently chaired by Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

"Oh, you know he wants it," one insider giggled. "Of course, he does."

That feeling is echoed, with varying degrees of restraint, by others on Capitol Hill.

"If Lincoln Chafee gets bumped from [Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs], he'll likely take [Western Hemisphere]," said one source, referring to Mr. Coleman's current subcommittee assignment, which focuses on Latin America.

Last week, Mr. Coleman tried to travel with a delegation through the tsunami-hit areas of South Asia, but ended up in Iraq. The trip was arranged long before the disaster, and logistics have been troublesome.

Although some subcommittee assignments already have been announced, Hill sources say they don't expect the Foreign Relations Committee assignments to be sorted out until later this month.

And speaking of the oil-for-food scandal, the U.N. inquiry will issue dozens of internal audits related to the program, starting today. An initial finding will be released later this month, according to former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who heads the probe.

Tsunami devastation

UNESCO distributed Thursday a list of World Heritage Sites thought to be submerged or destroyed by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami. Among them: Sri Lanka's port town of Galle is said to have suffered "important damage," particularly the ancient harbor. The fort there appears to be intact, however.

Galle, which was named a World Heritage Site in 1988, was founded in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers and later was taken over by the British.

The U.N. program aims to identify, protect and preserve locations of cultural or natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.

"It is the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and Southeast Asia, showing the interaction between European architectural styles and South Asian traditions," according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Web site.

About 4,000 residents are feared dead in and around the town, which has churches and mosques as well as concrete and plaster statues of the Buddha, which witnesses say remain intact amid piles of rubble.

Another heritage site in the region is Ujung Kulon National Park and Tropical Rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, barely 100 miles from the epicenter of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake. Structures there are feared to have been damaged, and there is concern for small islands in the park, including the remainder of the volcano Krakatau.

The area was shaken again Thursday by a magnitude 5.5 earthquake.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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