Atwood Withdraws Nomination

J. Brian Atwood, who has headed the U.S. foreign aid agency for six years, today withdrew his nomination to be ambassador to Brazil, saying Senate confirmation was unlikely because of the opposition of Sen. Jesse Helms.

Atwood said Helms, R-N.C., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, apparently based his opposition on the campaign Atwood waged to defeat Helms' proposal to merge the aid agency with the State Department.

Atwood, whose formal title is administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Helms apparently Â"believes that I pursued this administration position too vigorously. I regret that he feels this way but I do not regret fighting for the independence of USAID.Â"

Efforts to obtain comment from Helms' office were unsuccessful.

Sen. Jesse Helms. (AP)
Helms had proposed merging USAID, the U.S. Information Agency and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency into the State Department. Of the three agencies slated for the merger, only USAID retained its independence.

In 1997, Helms' opposition killed the nomination of former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld to be ambassador to Mexico.

Atwood noted there has been no U.S. ambassador to Brazil since Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky left in 1998. Â"I have concluded that, were I to persist in pursuing this nomination, I would only delay further the appointment of an ambassador to this vitally important country,Â" Atwood said in a statement.

He said it was clear that Helms would continue to block the nomination. He added that, as committee chairman, Helms' prerogatives are rarely challenged and Â"even more rarely challenged with any success.Â"

In addition to serving as head of USAID, Atwood has more recently assumed duties as chairman of the president's humanitarian relief effort for Kosovo. He indicated that he plans to leave both posts in the near future.