RAZE and rebuild: That is the order from President Reagan on the hopelessly ``bugged'' new United States Embassy in Moscow. The administration is trying to bill the Soviets for $29 million for delays and poor workmanship. There is talk of seeking reparations for listening devices the Soviets planted in the building during construction.
The President is right to replace the ``old'' new embassy; it is laced with Soviet eavesdropping devices. The merit of the charges of poor workmanship and delay will be determined by an arbitrator in Stockholm. But the notion of seeking reparations for ``bugs'' smacks of dunning the Soviets for our own naivet'e, complacency, and wishful thinking.
The US allowed the Soviets to fabricate much of the building off-site without close supervision. By contrast, Soviet KGB agents scrutinized off-site manufacture of elements of their new Washington embassy.
The Soviets claimed that their construction practices didn't include on-site fabrication of major structural components; the US raised little if any protest. If the US was going to buy that line, then it had a duty to apply the same oversight it was granting the Soviets in Washington. Its failure to do so was akin to hanging a ``kick me'' sign on Uncle Sam's back and then parading him in front of the schoolyard bully; the temptation to comply is almost too hard to resist.
That mistake will cost roughly $400 million - $300 million to $360 million for replacing the new embassy, and writing off some $22 million spent on it so far.
Not to be one-upped, the Soviets are trying to charge the US as much as or more than the US is charging them (surprise), which they claim as the cost of their inability to occupy their new embassy; Congress refused to allow the Soviets to move in until the US was unpacking in its new building.
The US should not fritter away diplomatic capital on seeking payment - nor should it hold the Soviets accountable for its own foolishness.