UN AMBASSADOR RICHARDSON LIKELY TO REPLACE PENA AT ENERGY, OFFICIALS SAY

UN AMBASSADOR RICHARDSON LIKELY TO REPLACE PENA AT ENERGY, OFFICIALS SAY

Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is likely to become President Clinton's next energy secretary, although the move is not final, officials said late last week.

Barry Toiv, a White House deputy press secretary, said the reports ''are at the least premature and could turn out to be wrong. This decision has not been made yet.''A source familiar with Mr. Richardson's thinking said the switch was probable, and Mr. Richardson and Mr. Clinton were expected to talk over the weekend.

Mr. Richardson's spokesman, Calvin Mitchell, said the ambassador had not resigned.

Richard Holbrooke, one-time assistant secretary of state for European affairs and architect of the Bosnia peace accords, would be the front-runner for Mr. Richardson's job should he leave, officials said.

Mr. Richardson, a former Democratic congressman from New Mexico, has been the top contender for the Energy job being vacated by Federico Pena, who announced April 6 that he would leave the Cabinet this summer.

Acknowledging that, Mr. Toiv said Mr. Richardson ''would be a very strong candidate,'' given his experience as a lawmaker from New Mexico where energy issues are critical.