Changing of the guard. U.S. president Bill Clinton has been rewarding friends with abassadorships before the 1996 election campaign heats up.
"I've been told it's a normal rotation," Russell said. "I consider it a normal rotation. There's a large number of ambassador rotations pending."
What is not clear is why the changes are taking place now. Other than saying there are "various reasons why names have been sent to the Senate now," Russell added it would be "totally improper of me to comment" on the changes, although rumour has it that Clinton wants to reward career foreign service officers with appointments before the heat of the presidential election gets too hot.
Now that Johnson has been nominated, he must make himself available to the Senate for questioning and be confirmed by the chamber. Russell said he has "absolutely no doubt" that Johnson will be confirmed. No date has been set for Johnson's confirmation, and it could be held up by the Senate's impasse with the President over a number of spending bills.
Russell had nothing but praise for Johnson, who he said he has known for a long time and counts as a personal friend. "He has the experience and all the personal characteristics that are needed," Russell said.
Asked to elaborate, the ambassador pointed to Johnson's current position as the administrator of the Support for Eastern European Democracy (SEED) Act, legislation that targets funding to emerging democracies in the region. Johnson is "directly involved in the process of making decisions concerning Central and Eastern European countries as they move forward in their democratic development and economic transformation processes," Russell said. "That's pretty good experience to me."
A number of ambassadors with long tenures in the foreign service have recently been replaced in countries in the region - the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Armenia and Tadzhikistan all received new ambassadors on June 26. Johnson himself is part of a new wave of appointments, though no other potential future ambassadors are in the region.
The embassy's press office could not say if Johnson would visit Slovakia after his expected confirmation, though a trip is not mandatory. In fact, Russell did not visit the country in the several month period between being confirmed and taking his position, said Helen McKee, head of the press section, though "he read himself into the current political situation [at that time]."
27. Oct 1995 at 0:00 | Richard Lewis