WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Senate committee endorsed the promotion of a Navy admiral Friday after he voiced regrets about his handling of a 1989 sexual harassment case in which a female midshipman was chained to a urinal by male classmates.

The Senate Armed Services Committee accepted President Clinton's nomination of Adm. Joseph Prueher to become the U.S. Pacific commander, one of the nation's top military posts. The voice vote by the committee came hours after Prueher conceded during his confirmation hearing that he could have handled the harassment case better.

Prueher said he told the young woman's father, Dr. Gregory Dreyer, that she appeared to be smiling in photographs of the incident taken by her jeering assailants. It was a comment meant to reassure the father that the woman had not suffered excessively. But it has dogged Prueher since, even as the Navy continued to promote him to other command positions.

``I told him that she was presumably not distressed and in fact appeared to be smiling in one of the photos,'' Prueher said, recounting the conversation to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday.

``Somehow or another he interpreted my comments as a threat to distribute the photos,'' Prueher said. ``That was not my intent. I can't think of anything that I said that would have made that seem to be a threat. And in fact the photos were destroyed a few days after that and never appeared anywhere.''

Caroline Dreyer, stepmother of the victim, said in a telephone interview Friday that she and her husband have been trying to block Prueher's promotion because of what they view as his callous response to the incident.

``He has skated through this unscathed and it's incredible to us because he was the real villain,'' Mrs. Dreyer said.

At one point during the academy's investigation of the December 1989 incident, according to Mrs. Dreyer, Prueher called the victim, Gwen Dreyer, into his office and tried to convince her that her parents were overreacting to the case and that ``we all know it was in good fun.''

Dreyer, whose father and grandfather were Naval Academy graduates, quit the academy in disgust after her assailants received lenient punishments. Two midshipmen lost leave time and were issued demerits, while six others received written reprimands.

Prueher, who was commandant of midshipmen at the academy in Annapolis, Md., from 1989 to 1991, took the lead role in investigating the incident. After stints in other posts, he took command the Sixth Fleet in 1993 and now serves as vice chief of naval operations, the Navy's No. 2 post.

The Senate confirmed Prueher for both of those senior positions and questioned him about the urinal incident each time. In each case, he expressed similar regrets about the incident and his remarks to Dreyer's father.

The issue of sexual harassment is doubly significant in this case because Prueher is succeeding an admiral relieved of his command after making an insensitive remark about a sexual assault case.

President Clinton asked for Adm. Richard Macke's resignation last November after Macke told reporters that three U.S. servicemen who raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl on Okinawa could have hired a prostitute instead.

With Friday's committee action, Prueher's nomination now goes to the Senate floor. If the Senate confirms his nomination, Prueher will take over the largest of the military's five regional commands. He would control not only Navy forces but all 100,000 U.S. military personnel in the Pacific.

Prueher appeared along with Clinton's nominee for vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston. Ralston also won the committee's endorsement for promotion.

``Both of you are eminently qualified,'' Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the second-ranking Republican on the committee, told the officers.

In an interview Friday with the Voice of America, Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., ranking Democrat on the committee, predicted Prueher would be confirmed because of his outstanding overall military record.