Alexander Haig has emerged from sometimes-painful Senate testimony with his diplomatic hand strengthened. This seems to have been the consensus among the senators and Senate staff members who have put General Haig through 32 hours of public and secret hearings aimed at determining his suitability to serve as secretary of state.
Overwhelming Senate confirmation of Haig's nomination is expected in the wake of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's 15-to-2 vote in his favor on Jan. 15 .
Even the two senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who voted against Haig's confirmation, Paul S. Sarbanes (D) of Maryland and Paul E. Tsongas (D) of Massachusetts, acknowledged that Haig is a man of talent. He left the impression with these and other senators -- which cannot but help him as he assumes his difficult task -- that he is intelligent, knowledgeable, articulate, and forceful. Senator Tsongas predicted that he will dominate the Reagan Cabinet.
As Haig prepared to take up his duties as secretary of state, there were continuing positive signs that he may be relieved of one burden which has absorbed much of the energy of the outgoing administration -- the Iran hostage crisis. Comments by officials in Iran and a vote by the Iranian parliament approving a bill rlating to the hostages, have led US officials to be more hopeful than at any other time since the hostages were seized more than a year ago.
The State Department said Jan. 15 that Iran had delivered its formal response to the US on the hostage question. A department spokesman said that the Iranian message was "substantive" and "warrants close and intensive study."
But the spokesman cautioned that until the US had a chance to evaluate the message, "we cannot predict whether it will enable the parties to resolve their remaining differences."
Earlier, a spokesman had reported "positive movement" in the continuing discussions between the US and Iran which have been conducted through Algerian intermediaries. But the spokesman had added that the movement consisted of "cutting away the underbrush of details that surround any agreement of this kind."
But even if the hostage albatross is lifted from Secretary- designate Haig's shoulders, he will be picking up an enormous diplomatic burden. To begin with, few experts see any prospect for an easing of tensions with the Soviet Union in the coming year or two. In the course of five days of hearings on his nomination as secretary of state, Haig indicated repeatedly that his main concern is with countering the expansion of Soviet power.
But in responding to questions on this and other issues, Haig refused for the most part to be pinned down on details and left almost all of his options open. Many of the senators seemed to see some virtue in this, and Senator Tsongas, for one, congratulaged Haig on his ability to retain his options.
If Haig tripped up at all, it was perhaps in angering several of the Democratic committee members with the sharp tone of his responses to Sarbanes and Tsongas over the question of respect for the Constitution. Senator Sarbanes declared that his main concern was over the matter of Haig's "sensitivity to the use of power under our constitutional system." Senator Tsongas stated that Haig was "an extraordinary man, capable, intelligent, tough, and pragmatic" and added that Haig had a "sense of history." But the senator worried about a "risk of expediency" with Haig which might spoil an otherwise solid performance. Tsongas felt what might be lacking in Haig was a sense of moral limits, or moral purpose.
"Haig overstepped the bounds of decency in attacking Sarbanes and Tsongas," said one longtime analyst of congressional affairs. "The Senate is a club, and you don't do that kind of thing to individuals who are part of that club. . . . It may have harmed Haig's ability to work with a number of members of Congress."
But the Foreign Relations Committee did agree not to delay Haig's confirmation even while continuing its efforts to secure tape recordings in the National Archives from Haig's White House service under President Nixon. Because Mr. Nixon is expected to oppose release of the tapes, the legal dispute over their release could drag on in the courts for months. Haig's confirmation by the full Senate is expected to come on Jan. 21 or 22.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D) of California said at the Jan. 14 Haig hearing that he read a partial transcript of the tape of a June 4, 1973, conversation between Haig and Nixon and was now prepared to repudiate one Watergate charge against Haig. The senator said the transcript in no way suggests that Haig, as has sometimes been alleged, counselled the President to lie.