Dellums reassures Premier on US base

the threat of immediate closure, US Congressmen assured Premier the Hon. Sir John Swan yesterday.

Congressmen Ron Dellums, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee,

the threat of immediate closure, US Congressmen assured Premier the Hon. Sir John Swan yesterday.

Congressmen Ron Dellums, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, pledged to make sure Bermudians would not suffer "unintended consequences'' of a 1994 Defence Bill provision that could close the Base almost immediately.

"Your people have been straightforward and we understand the nature of the problem,'' Rep. Dellums told Sir John at the start of a 30-minute Capitol Hill meeting.

"I am aware of the fact that if the Base closed in the manner we put forward there would be unintended consequences...for the people of Bermuda.

"I'm not interested in seeing the people of Bermuda hurt.'' Rep. Dellums was referring to a provision in the 1994 Defence Authorisation Bill that would withdraw funding for the Base within three months of passage.

That provision is among hundreds of items to go before a House-Senate Conference for decision starting as early as next week.

The Royal Gazette also learned yesterday that White House national security advisor Mr. Anthony Lake has written to the Armed Services Committee opposing the 90-day provision.

The Premier, who is in the US capital to make sure the provision does not pass the conference in its present form, won Mr. Dellums' assurance that he and his colleagues would remove the three-month time frame.

"Rest assured you have my attention,'' said Mr. Dellums, who will control the House agenda in the conference. "I'm confident we'll resolve this problem.'' The meeting was considered critical by the Premier and his advisers because only through awareness of the Bermuda provision and its "unintended consequences'' could it be stopped.

Bermuda's task is to make sure it has support among the nearly 40 participants in the conference to stop the withdrawal provision. "We must figure out how to get out of it,'' Rep. Dellums said.

"I'm hoping somewhere in the conference we'll work out some kind of wording to get out in time with the appropriate transition.'' Sir John, while encouraged by Rep. Dellums' words, was guarded in his comments following the meeting.

"Rep. Dellums has given an undertaking that he's going to safeguard Bermuda's interests,''' Sir John said. "But I don't want to raise expectations that we've solved a major problem. There is no ironclad deal.'' Premier Swan said he was pleased that a growing number of Congressmen are aware that an abrupt Navy withdrawal from Bermuda would leave the Island without manpower to run the Civil Air Terminal and emergency services such as fire and search and rescue.

Those responsibilities are now handled by the Americans under the US-UK Bases Agreement.

One possibility that emerged yesterday was the role the US Navy itself could play in the fate of its Bermuda base.

Both Rep. Robert Toricelli, who chairs the Western Hemisphere Sub Committee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sir Robin Renwick, the British Ambassador to Washington, recommended the Premier meet again with Mr. John Dalton, the Navy Secretary.

Mr. Toricelli thought Mr. Dalton's judgement on the base could help Bermuda's cause.

"This becomes his judgement,'' he said.

Later, Sir Robin said the Premier's meeting with Mr. Dalton -- which could take place as soon as Monday -- should stress the point that the US "should not surrender something they may need later''.

He said the price of maintaining a "residual presence'' in Bermuda would not be high.

Sir John's meeting with Sir Robin was held primarily to coordinate the Island's Base lobbying efforts by the British embassy and Bermuda's US lobbyist, Mr. Ken Levine.

"I want to make sure we continue to speak with one voice, exchange the right information and talk to the right people,'' Sir John said.

Last night' s meeting art the British Embassy heard Sir Robin echo the one fact that has put the Base on the Congressional hit list: Sam Donaldson's PrimeTime Live report in December which portrayed the Base as the Navy's Club Med. He said Congressmen were "rattled by the report''.

Calls for the Base closure came within days of the TV report and then the House Armed Services Committee adopted the provison to withdraw its funding.

British Government lobbying has resulted in President Clinton's National Security Advisor Mr. Anthony Lake writing the House Armed Services Committee to say the Administration does not support the 90-day withdrawal.

The Premier's Washington trip concludes this afternoon following a scheduled meeting with Sen. Dennis DeConcini, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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