Top think tank picks a Friend of Bill

By MARTIN WALKER, UPI Chief International Correspondent  |  Jan. 24, 2002 at 7:59 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state and a close friend of former President Bill Clinton, has been elected the next president of the Brookings Institution, one of the most venerable -- and influential -- of Washington's think tanks.

Although closely identified with the former Democratic president, Talbott stressed his commitment to objective and nonpartisan research at Brookings. But he remains a controversial figure among conservative Republicans in Congress who questioned the Clinton administration's Russia policies.

A fluent Russian speaker and scholar of Soviet affairs, Talbott takes over a staff of 277, an endowment of over $200 million and a stable of Brookings scholars who produce scores of books and policy papers every year, mainly on government, economics and international affairs.

The model for the rash of Washington think tanks that has emerged in its wake, Brookings plays a leading role in the American policy debate, and at any given time an alternative American cabinet and government could probably be recruited from its ranks.

Talbott, 55, who became a Friend of Bill when they shared a flat as fellow Rhodes Scholars at Britain's Oxford University, had barely started his most recent challenge, launching and running the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University, when the Brookings job arose.

"This is a great honor and opportunity," said Talbott. "Sound policy depends on nonpartisan, independent research and analysis of the kind that Brookings has generated for more than eight decades. I have long admired the Brookings Institution's reputation for excellence and objectivity, which is an invaluable asset for its ongoing mission. I look forward to working with a superb team of scholars in ensuring the pre-eminence and impact of the institution in the years ahead."

Talbott takes over as the institution's sixth president on Sept. 1, succeeding former Ambassador Michael Armacost. He was elected unanimously Thursday by the Brookings board of trustees after an eight-month search process.

"I am confident that Strobe Talbott will be an outstanding leader of Brookings," said James A. Johnson, Brookings chairman. "In addition to his keen intellect and deep background in key public policy issues, he will provide the energy, the judgment, and the sense of balance and fairness that our unique institution requires."

Armacost said Thursday that his successor "has all the attributes necessary for success. He is the author of thoughtful, critically acclaimed, policy-oriented books. He has been an exemplary public servant. He possesses in rich abundance the values that are at the core of this institution: collegiality, civility, personal integrity, and a commitment to detached, independent scholarship on the most urgent national issues. And he is widely known and respected within the policymaking community here and abroad."

Before joining the Clinton administration, Talbott was an award-winning journalist with Time magazine and published six books on U.S.-Soviet relations and nuclear arms control. He translated and edited two volumes of Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs, published in 1970 and 1974.

His next book, "The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Personal Diplomacy," will be published by Random House in May.

Before entering government, Talbott served as a director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Aspen Strategy Group and the Trilateral Commission. Since leaving government, he has rejoined the Carnegie board and the Trilateral Commission.

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