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Officials: Baucus to be named ambassador to China

Baucus, 72, sidestepped questions about the ambassadorship when asked in the Capitol.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Baucus, 72, sidestepped questions about the ambassadorship when asked in the Capitol.

WASHINGTON — President Obama intends to nominate Senator Max Baucus as ambassador to China, Democratic officials said Wednesday, turning to a lawmaker well-versed in trade issues to fill one of the nation’s most sensitive diplomatic posts.

If confirmed by the Senate, Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, would replace Ambassador Gary Locke, who announced last month he was stepping down.

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An announcement of Baucus’s appointment is expected as early as Thursday.

The Montanan’s departure from the Senate would have an instant impact on one of Congress’s most powerful committees and on the 2014 election for control of Congress. Under state law, Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, has the authority to name a Senate successor to serve until the election, and speculation immediately turned to a fellow Democrat, Lieutenant Governor John Walsh, already a candidate for a full term.

Baucus, 72, sidestepped questions about the ambassadorship when asked in the Capitol.

There was no immediate comment from the White House on the disclosure.

Obama is in search of a new top diplomat in Beijing as he executes a so-called Asia
pivot in US foreign policy to more directly counter China after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The relationship between the two nations has grown more troubled in recent weeks, with Chinese authorities unilaterally declaring an air defense zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Vice President Joe Biden sought to calm matters on his recent trip through Asia.

Senate committee approves bill on resuming aid to Egypt

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel approved a bill Wednesday that would allow the United States to resume its full $1.6 billion aid relationship with Egypt by granting President Obama the power to waive a federal law based on national security. Wider congressional support for the bill is unclear.

The legislation passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee seeks to address one of the most pressing challenges for policymakers in Washington to arise out of the Egyptian Army’s July overthrow of the country’s Islamist president.

For months, the Obama administration and Congress debated whether to maintain military aid to Egypt that advances US and Israeli security or to implement a nearly 30-year-old provision that bans all nonhumanitarian and nondemocracy support to governments that suffer coup d'etats.

The administration ultimately decided against making any determination about Egypt’s government upheaval, yet opted in October to withhold the transfer of 10 Apache helicopters at a cost of more than $500 million, M1A1 tank kits, Harpoon antiship missiles and $260 million in cash assistance until ‘‘credible progress’’ is made toward an inclusive government set up through free and fair elections.

The strategy left neither fervent democracy advocates nor top national security officials completely satisfied.

The bill offers the president greater flexibility in the event of a similar situation in future. It allows the president to waive the coup law restriction for up to a year if the aid is deemed essential for national security.

But the legislation also seeks to prevent the administration from avoiding a coup determination altogether as it did in Egypt — a decision that caused significant consternation in Congress. Instead, the secretary of state would have to declare if a coup has taken place within 30 days of a questionable change of power.

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