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Diplomats at U.S. Embassy in Moscow Take on Challenge of Doing Without Soviet Workers

November 01, 1986|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Foreign Service Officer Shaun Burns was out in the courtyard of the U.S. Embassy on Friday, wearing a pair of heavy canvas work gloves and blue jeans, unusual garb for a diplomat. But now, of course, he unloads trucks.

Nearby stood Barbara A. Dyson, who was recently selected as the best secretary worldwide in the U.S. Information Service. She wore a sweat shirt and old slacks, and had joined a cleanup crew.

Richard J. Combs, the deputy chief of mission, said he had been on janitor duty Thursday but was now a chauffeur.

According to Ambassador Arthur A. Hartman, his embassy staff is meeting the challenge posed by the unexpected withdrawal last week of 183 Soviet employees in reprisal for the expulsion of 55 Soviet diplomats from the United States.

New Workers Coming Soon

Nevertheless, Hartman said Friday at a press conference, the State Department has promised to send a small rescue mission of American blue-collar workers to take over many of the chores that used to be done by Soviet personnel at the nine-story embassy building on Tchaikovsky Street.

And even after the new workers arrive, he said, the embassy will still be under the ceiling of 225 people imposed by the Soviet Foreign Ministry; another 26 Americans work at the U.S. Consulate in Leningrad.

"We are in operation," Hartman said. "Our reporting to Washington continues, and on an interim basis, we are doing some tasks that we never did before."

Diplomats who once relied on Soviet intermediaries are now clearing their own shipments through Soviet customs, he said, and are wrestling with other bureaucrats to get airline and railroad tickets. Travel notices are also being processed by American staff members, and Hartman acknowledged that this is slow going because of the need to use Russian typewriters with the Cyrillic alphabet.

The ambassador's wife, Donna, has taken over most of the gardening chores. Official lunches and receptions continue, with U.S. Marines washing dishes. And diplomats, working in teams assigned alphabetically, are cleaning the embassy courtyard. "The courtyard has never looked cleaner," Hartman said.

"We've already had some positive benefits, benefits that I think the Politburo could learn from," the ambassador added. "We have come face to face with Soviet reality, and for an organization like ours, which is here to learn about Soviet society, this is not totally negative."

Some Problems Remain

Still, he was quick to add that the extra work, at night and on weekends, is not altogether painless.

On Friday, an embassy spokesman for the first time gave the precise number of Soviet staff members affected by the Kremlin's order. The spokesman said 183 Soviets had worked at the U.S. chancery, earning $1.3 million annually. The Soviets had originally announced that 260 Soviet citizens were affected, but that figure also included maids and housekeepers personally employed by U.S. diplomats, half of the employees at the Anglo-American school, language teachers, tennis coaches and all other Soviets hired by American diplomats.

Hartman, who has been the ambassador here for the past five years, said that even before the reprisal move, he had wanted to reduce the number of Soviet employees, to fewer than 100.

He said that he would have eliminated drivers and others in jobs outside the embassy building but that the Foreign Ministry put an end to that plan.

Now, Hartman said, it is unlikely that the embassy will ever again hire Soviet nationals.

He said the mission here has been moving for some time toward an all-American operation. Soviet telephone operators and translators were quietly replaced by U.S. citizens in the past year, mainly for security reasons.

At a single stroke, he said, the risk of security breaches by Soviet employees has been removed by the Soviet government itself.

The impact of the shortage of service workers will be less severe, he said, when the mission moves to new facilities under construction a short distance away from the embassy.

A Los Angeles firm, Pacific Architects & Engineers, has already sent in some Americans to look after janitorial and custodial responsibilities in facilities that are to be ready by the end of the year.

Earlier in the day Friday, the embassy's Soviet employees gathered on the sidewalk outside the entrance. Then they were escorted in, given their paychecks and allowed to pick up their personal belongings. Some had worked for the embassy for 20 years and seemed reluctant to say goodby.

"There's a lot of sadness out there," Hartman said.

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