Al Gore: Assistant Commander in Chief

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Which top U.S. official is getting the most face time with Russian special Kosovo envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin? Al Gore, that's who. After Chernomyrdin talked turkey with President Clinton and his advisers at the White House late Monday afternoon, the roving ambassador held another meeting in Washington late into the night -- with the suddenly visible veep. And the morning after, the Russian envoy asked for and obtained yet another meeting with Gore.

Despite the advice of some aides and friends that he lay low during the war in Kosovo, the vice president has taken a prominent position in communicating and formulating U.S. policy concerning the conflict. "Gore has strong views on foreign policy questions and he has taken a surprisingly strong role as a vice president during this crisis," says TIME White House correspondent Karen Tumulty. "He has been one of the strongest supporters of the air campaign and one of the strongest advocates against the introduction of ground troops." Glimpses of Goreís activist role have come to light from time to time: It was Gore who placed the phone call to Russia's Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov at the outset of the NATO action, informing him of the situation and prompting Primakov to cancel a visit to the U.S; it was Gore who announced that the U.S. would take in some of the Kosovo refugees; and it is Gore who has been the administrationís primary contact with Chernomyrdin. Goreís close working relation with the Russians "comes from having worked with both Chernomyrdin and Primakov on a binational relations commission," reports Tumulty. "He is particularly close to Chernomyrdin." Accordingly, while Gore continues the traditional vice-presidential stance of operating mostly in the shadow of the commander in chief for now, donít be surprised if you begin to see more images and hear more tales of Goreís foreign policy prowess as the 2000 campaign begins to take shape. Especially if the NATO engagement ends well for the U.S.

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