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Powerful US Senator Jesse Helms to Retire

Republican U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, one of the most influential and controversial members of Congress in recent years, is reportedly planning to retire when his term runs out. Mr. Helms will announce his decision to the voters in his home state of North Carolina Wednesday night.

Mr. Helms is expected to say he will not seek re-election and instead will leave the Senate in 2003 after 30 years in office. Seventy-nine-years old and plagued by health problems, he also lost his post as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee when Democrats gained control of the Senate. But he remains one of the most powerful voices in Congress on foreign affairs.

Staunch conservatism has always been Mr. Helms' trademark, especially on social issues like abortion and homosexual rights. He fiercely opposes Communism, fought many arms control treaties, and was a vocal critic of the United Nations. But he joined Democratic Senator Joseph Biden in brokering a deal to pay some of Washington's debt to the world body. Earlier this year, Mr. Helms urged his colleagues to approve more than half a billion dollars in U.N. dues in return for reforms. "And these conditions have already been met largely and I believe in response that the Senate should now reward the enormous progress made in New York," he stressed.

Mr. Helms also backed debt relief for developing nations and in the process formed an unlikely friendship with rock singer Bono. His retirement could make it harder for Republicans to retake control of the Senate in next year's elections.

But former presidential contender Elizabeth Dole, who served in two Republican administrations and comes from North Carolina, may seek the nomination to succeed Mr. Helms. He will announce his future plans Wednesday evening from the television station where he was once a commentator.