How US hopes to avoid future Tehrans
Washington — As the occupation of the American Embassy is Tehran grinds into its fifth month, efforts are quietly under way here to avert future such incidents. The US Department of State is taking steps to lower its diplomatic profile and tighten its security overseas. And Congress is studying a wide range of possible preventive measures.
"WE owe it to those 50 or more hostages to ensure that such a violation of universal standards of conduct is never repeated," says Rep. Floyd J. Fithian (D) of Indiana, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and author of one pending proposal.
The security threat to American diplomatic missions abroad reaches far beyond Iran. In little more than five years, six US embassies in scattered parts of the world have been overrun by mobs -- three of them in the past six months. And, in other incidents, three American ambassadors have been killed.
nor are US embassies and diplomats the only targets. In Latin America alone, nine embassies of various nations have been seized by terrorists and 22 ambassadors held captive already this year.
Here are some steps the US is taking to meet the threat:
* Smaller embassy staffs. The State Department is cutting the number of American employees at its diplomatic missions overseas. The current work force of approximately 17,500 will be trimmed by 359 in the coming year.
* Tougher embassy security. The department is drawing up a request for more money for overseas security, both in the current fiscal year and the approaching one -- on top of a nearly $1 million increase (to $26.7 million) for regular security already proposed in President Carter's tight fiscal 1981 budget.
"Our basic premise is that we're moving in the correct direction," says Karl D. Ackerman, deputy assistant secretary of state for security, "but now we have to do more, and do it faster."
The added funds will go chiefly for protective equipment and other physical facilities at diplomatic missions in locations chosen on the basis of what Mr. Ackerman calls their "threat level."
The new security facilities will be designed "to harden our defenses to buy more time," he says, until the host country -- to which ultimate safety will continue to be entruted -- can deploy forces capable of repelling an attack.
Relatively little of the stepped-up security is expected to be borne by reinforcing the 1,000 US marines who, normally in six-man contigents, now guard the outposts. Their role will remain largely to serve as combination doorkeepers and nightwatchmen
"They're not there to take on the total populace," Mr. Ackerman says.
* New legal and diplomatic deterrents. A variety of government-level safeguards are being considered by Congress.
Some would seek to ward off assaults on American embassies by spelling out in advance a set of stern countermeasures that any attackers could expect from the United States.
One bill by Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R) of Maryland, would require the President to determine within two weeks after such an attack whether the government of the host country in any way instigated or sanctioned it.
If so, the US would immediately cut diplomatic ties, halt all military and economic aid, freeze assets of the offending nation in the US, and from these assets extract retribution of up to $10 million a day to compensate for harm to American personnel and property.
Legislation pushed by Congressman Fithian would foster establishment of an Intenational Office of Diplomatic Securityat the United Nations to monitor compliance by all nations with global agreements guaranteeing protection of diplomatic missions.
The unit would conduct on-the-scene security evaluations, recommend improvements, issue worldwide warnings about any countries deemed unsafe for foreign diplomats, and initiate international sanctions against delinquent countries -- or assistance to help them comply.