Reich Out As Assistant Sec'y of State, But May Return

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

( - Controversial Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Otto Reich has been reassigned within the State Department after being forced to step down from his former posting because of a time limit on his appointment.

However, it's possible Reich could get his old job back now that Republicans are in control of the Senate and the presidential nomination process.

Secretary of State Colin Powell named Reich a special envoy for the State Department's Latin American Bureau. Deputy Secretary of State Curt Struple was named to temporarily replace Reich.

"The Secretary of State asked Ambassador Reich to be his special envoy to the Western Hemisphere. In this capacity, he will report to the secretary and continue to advance U.S. interests throughout the region," said Robert Zimmerman, a State Department spokesman in a statement.

Reich found out Friday after arriving in Washington from a diplomatic trip to Brazil that his term had expired. Under the rules governing recess appointments, his tenure expired the when the 107th Congress adjourned Friday.

President Bush gave Reich a recess appointment to the job, meaning the appointment was made when Congress was not in session last January. At the time, there was heated opposition to Reich from Senate Democrats and his formal confirmation was in doubt.

Sources told that Bush will probably re-nominate Reich for his old job and he will probably win Senate confirmation when the 108th Congress convenes in January because of the new GOP majority.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) will become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must weigh in on Reich's nomination before the full Senate takes it up. Lugar's office did not return phone calls Monday seeking further comment on the story.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a Cuban exile and strong supporter of Reich, said Monday he has been told that the Bush White House would give a strong push to Reich to get him confirmed by the Senate.

"They are behind him. They support us on this," Diaz-Balart said.

Reich, a Cuban-American and a strident anti-Communist, has irritated Democrats including former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), because of Reich's support for the Cuban economic embargo and the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s, who fought against the Sandinista government which was later deposed.

Dodd said Saturday in a statement that he would continue to oppose Reich as assistant secretary of state if he is re-nominated. "We would hope the president would select a nominee with bipartisan support, which clearly Mr. Reich doesn't have," he said.

Reich's views have predictably irked the Castro government as well. "Unbelievable" is how one top Cuban government official responded when Bush nominated Reich.

According to Radio Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque called Reich an "old anti-communist cold warrior who was involved in illegal activities in the dirty wars in Central America during the Ronald Reagan administration," a reference to the controversy surrounding the financing of Contra rebel activities through the illegal sale of arms to Iran during the Reagan years.

But Reich is not without his supporters. Last year, former Secretaries of State George Shultz, James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger wrote a joint letter to the editor of the Washington Post calling for Reich's confirmation by the Senate.

The Cuban-American National Foundation, a leading anti-Castro Cuban exile group, also supports Reich, because he knows the Castro government for "what they really are," according to CANF Executive Vice President Dennis Hays.

"I think it's because they realize that he's a distinguished diplomat. He has a good appreciation of the Castro regime and its many failings and crimes. He's the sort of guy who is going to be effective in carrying out President Bush's policies, and those policies are to help democracy and free enterprise flourish," Hays said.

In his first speech last March after he joined the State Department, Reich said the Cuban economic embargo will remain in effect under the Bush administration.

"We are not going to help Fidel Castro stay in power by opening up our markets to Cuba," he said during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private research group based in Washington.

Reich also vowed that the administration will resist congressional pressure for closer ties to Cuba because the Castro government is "murderous and dictatorial."

Bush has repeatedly said he will not lift the economic embargo against Cuba until Castro frees all political prisoners and allows free and fair elections.

Reich has previously served as the assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development and as a special advisor to former Secretary of State George Shultz in the Reagan administration. During that time, he established and managed the interagency Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean.

From 1986 to 1989, Reich was the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and received the State Department's Exemplary Service Award and Superior Honor Award.

E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Related Articles:
Bush Re-nominates Reich For State Department Position (Feb. 27, 2002)

Otto Reich: Propagandist or Honest Broker? (Feb. 4, 2002)

White House Angry At Senate Inaction on Reich Nomination (Dec. 21, 2001)