Washington — Secretary of State George Shultz is winning out in his efforts to take charge of the American diplomatic bureaucracy during the second Reagan term. By insisting that the newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, Lt. Gen. Vernon A. Walters, will not be a regular participant in National Security Council (NSC) meetings, Mr. Shultz is making clear that he intends to be the President's primary foreign policy adviser. General Walters this week agreed to take the UN post, despite an earlier understanding that he would have automatic access to high-level meetings, as did his predecessor, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick.
Shultz is actually reverting to a more normal conduct of foreign policy, in which the secretary of state tries to curb the itch of the UN ambassador to become virtually a second secretary of state. ``It's a standard position for Shultz to take,'' says I. Mac Destler, a foreign policy expert. ``The UN post is one that presidents have tended to inflate by their appointments -- and then they're often sorry.''
In a related development, six members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will participate in a new process aimed at weeding out unqualified ambassadorial appointees. The private screening group will be the American Academy of Diplomacy, supported by a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. Sens. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R) of Maryland and Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island, two of the members involved in the experimental two-year project, say that it will seek to ensure more careful review of presidential appointees by the Senate committee. The process will not diminish the President's prerogatives in nominating envoys, they say, or the Senate's responsibility in confirming appointments. The Walters issue is not one of qualification; the retired Army general has had a distinguished career as a diplomatic trouble-shooter. Rather it is a matter of having influence in the job and being able to gain the President's ear by attending NSC policymaking meetings.
White House officials say the new envoy will be invited to NSC meetings when they involve his UN role. But he apparently will not have the kind of carte-blanche entree that Dr. Kirkpatrick did.
By statute there are only four members of the NSC: the president, vice-president, secretary of state, and secretary of defense. Also by statute, the director of central intelligence and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff are designated advisers to the council. But as the NSC system has evolved since 1947, presidents select various aides to sit in on NSC deliberations. Mr. Reagan, for instance, has just designated Treasury Secretary James Baker III and White House chief of staff Donald Regan to attend NSC meetings.
Historically, says Mr. Destler, the UN ambassadors often have frustrated secretaries of state, and presidents have often oversold the envoy's position or used it for their own political ends. Under Lyndon Johnson, Arthur Goldberg resigned from the Supreme Court to take the UN post. President Kennedy had a hard time keeping Adlai Stevenson out of high-level discussions because of the latter's influence in the Democratic Party. Jimmy Carter appointed Andrew Young because of his political influence, using him at the UN to speak to certain constitutences. But Richard Nixon gave the post less political visibility, appointing career diplomat Charles Yost.
White House officials say they expect Walters to concentrate on the UN rather than on advising the President on a broad range of policy issues. Reagan clearly invited Mrs. Kirkpatrick to NSC meetings because he was interested in her views. Often she did not attend because of her duties in New York. But when she did, her outspoken views often irritated the State Department; hence Shultz's move to change the ground rules. This does not mean Walters could not have considerable input in policymaking, say diplomatic experts. Since the UN is involved in almost every foreign policy issue, it would not be illogical to have Walters attend most NSC meetings, if the President so desired.
In general the foreign policy community is disappointed in Reagan's diplomatic nominees, not just because he has made a high number of political appointments, but because those chosen have not always been well qualified.
Under the screening process being tried by the American Academy of Diplomacy -- in order to see whether such an approach is feasible -- William E. Schaufele, a retired ambassador, will interview the presidential appointees and make inquiries about them. His findings will then be reviewed by three other former diplomats: a noncareer diplomat under a GOP administration, a noncareer diplomat under a Democratic administration, and a career appointee. Only those nominees that have not previously had an ambassadorial position, career or noncareer, will be investigated. ``We're trying to establish a group that hopefully will be seen as bipartisan and avoid the endless debate over career vs. noncareer appointments,'' says David D. Newsom, president of the academy. This is the first such effort by a private group, he adds, and it is patterned after the American Bar Association, which gives advice on judicial appointments.
It will be up to the six Senate members to act on the screening information and decide whether to publicize it. Joining Senators Mathias and Pell in the process will be Sens. Alan Cranston (D) of California; Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut; Daniel Evans (R) of Washington; and Nancy L. Kassebaum (R) of Kansas.