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5 Floors of U.S. Embassy May Be Rebuilt : Plan to Remove Electronic Bugs from Moscow Structure Weighed

September 22, 1987|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The Reagan Administration has begun sounding out sentiment in Congress on an $87 million plan to rebuild the top five floors of the new U.S. Embassy building in Moscow to eliminate the Soviet listening devices that honeycomb the structure, officials said Monday.

"Obviously there are some big funding considerations that we need to talk about to members of Congress," one official said.

However, a senior House Republican complained Monday that Congress has not been consulted, according to United Press International.

"I'm troubled. . . . I thought we had their word they would not make a decision until Congress was consulted," said Rep. William S. Broomfield of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater described as "a little premature" a story in the New York Times that said the Administration has tentatively decided to raze and rebuild the top five floors of the eight-story building. Fitzwater spoke to reporters aboard President Reagan's Air Force One jetliner on the flight from Washington to New York, where the President addressed the U.N. General Assembly.

He said no final decisions have been made but that the report accurately outlines the Administration's "general thinking at this time."

Another official said, however, that there is no plan to demolish the top of the building. Instead, he said, the top floors would be substantially rebuilt either to eliminate the listening devices or to render them inoperative.

"To say that the top floors would be razed suggests that they would come with a steel wrecking ball and knock it down," he said. "They are not going to knock it down."

Nevertheless, the repairs now under consideration would cost almost as much as rebuilding the entire structure. The State Department earlier estimated that would cost about $109 million.

Broomfield, according to the UPI report, said the Administration has yet to inform the Foreign Affairs Committee of its plan to deal with the new building decision. As late as last Friday, Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead wrote him saying no decision had been made and promising consultations later.

But while Whitehead was writing Broomfield, a Broomfield aide said, an unsigned presidential decision paper proposing the five-floor reconstruction project was on file at the National Security Council, where it has been for nearly a month.

President Reagan has said the U.S. diplomatic mission will not move into the new chancery until it is totally secure. In the meantime, the Soviet Union is prohibited from occupying its new embassy in Washington.

Under a U.S.-Soviet agreement signed in 1972, each nation was authorized to build a new embassy in the other's capital. The agreement provides that both embassies will be occupied simultaneously.

U.S. officials said earlier that sophisticated listening devices were implanted throughout the embassy, most of them hidden in concrete beams that were cast in Soviet factories. Reagan Administration officials have described as a major blunder the decision of the Richard M. Nixon Administration to permit the work to be done by Soviet workers with only minimal U.S. supervision.

The officials said the Administration rejected a plan proposed by a special investigative panel to rebuild three stories of the embassy and construct a six-story annex to house the most secret activities. That panel, headed by former Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director James R. Schlesinger, submitted its report last June.

In the meantime, adjacent U.S. embassy personnel continue to work in a 40-year-old building, which officials describe as drafty and uncomfortable. The officials add that the old embassy is so insecure that Secretary of State George P. Shultz had to use a special van when he wanted to hold private conversations during his trip to Moscow last April.

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