Foreign crises top lawmakers' docket
Washington — Congressional questioning of President Carter's handling of the crises in Central Asia -- muted until now in deference to the American hostages in Iran and by a month- long legislative adjournment -- seems due to burst into the open when Congress reconvenes Jan. 22.
Increasingly restive lawmakers will begin taking their first serious look at the convulsive events in Iran and Afghanistan through a spate of public hearings , secret briefings, and an expected outpouring of individual assessments.
The topic will be the first order of business in the new congressional session for several committees in both houses.
At least eight panels will hold meetings of one sort or another on the Asian situation and the American response -- ranging from critiquing the retaliatory embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union, to a sweeping evaluation of the entire US foreign policy.
Although any full, no-holds-barred scrutiny is expected to await the return of the 50 American hostages held at the US Embassy in Tehran, the opening round of hearings is believed to foreshadow the heavy grilling of Carter administration policymakers yet to come.
"The question is," says an influential member of the House of Representatives Committees on Armed Services and Intelligence, "how did we get ourselves in this mess?"
The diplomatic side of the question is to be taken up by the foreign-affairs panels of both houses during Congress's first two days back in session. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance will brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee privately on Jan. 22, then field questions from its House counterpart in an open hearing Jan. 23.
Military aspects will get prompt examination from both Armed Services Committees. The Senate panel will hold a public hearing Jan. 23, while House members will receive closed-door briefings this week.
The grain embargo is expected to be verbally lambasted by farm-state lawmakers and farming interests at hearings by the Agriculture Committees Jan. 22 in the Senate and Jan. 29 in the House.
"It is safe to assume there will be questions," Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Herman E. Talmadge (D) of Georgia remarks drolly.
The embargo also will get a going-over this week from two congressional trade committees.
The sensitive issue of protecting American embassies, raised by the Tehran takeover, is to be explored by a House Armed Services subcommittee, although its investigation remains in a formative stage.
The most ambitious legislative examination, however, is a wide-ranging assessment of overall US foreign policy goals, involving four Senate committees and being organized by the foreign-relations panel.
Plans for the project are to be aired by the Foreign Relations Committee, starting Jan. 24.
President Carter, who is expected to devote much of his Jan. 23 STate of the Union address to Congress to Iran and Afghanistan, appears to have tried to temper congressional criticism of his actions during the crises by unusually conscientious efforts to keep lawmakers informed.