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web posted June 26, 2000

U.S. eases North Korea sanctions

The United States formally eased 50-year-old sanctions against North Korea on June 19, completing a process that began last September when the reclusive Stalinist state agreed to refrain from ballistic missile testing.

Officials insisted the lifting of sanctions was unrelated to an unprecedented North-South summit. But after South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed to work toward a peaceful resolution of their difficulties, officials hinted that an announcement about the sanctions was imminent.

Instead, the officials said, the restrictions that were to be lifted were the "final phase of what President Clinton announced last September 17."

Activities that will have some restrictions lifted include:

  • The importation of most North Korean-origin goods and raw materials.
  • The export of most nonsensitive goods and services of U.S. companies and their subsidiaries aboard, such as most consumer goods and most financial services.
  • Investment in agriculture, mining, petroleum, timber, cement transportation, infrastructure (roads, ports, airports), travel and tourism.
  • Remittances from U.S. nationals to North Koreans.
  • The transport of approved cargo to and from North Korea by commercial U.S. ships and aircraft, subject to normal regulatory requirements.
  • Commercial flights between the U.S. and North Korea, subject to normal regulatory control.

Others restrictions that affect trade or financial transactions with certain North Korean entities will remain in place because of North Korea's designation as a terrorist-supporting state.

House votes to curb tobacco-lawsuit costs

The House voted June 19 to bar the Justice Department from accepting funds from another agency to help pay for the federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry, dealing a blow Attorney General Janet Reno had said would force her to drop the multibillion-dollar litigation.

By a 207-197 vote, the House stood behind language in a spending bill that would force the Department of Veterans Affairs to abandon its plans to give the Justice Department $4 million to help it pay for the huge lawsuit. The legal action seeks to recover billions spent by Medicare and other federal programs to treat illnesses caused by smoking.

Earlier, Reno had said stopping other federal agencies from helping bear the legal costs would prevent the government from reaping a bonanza similar to the $246 billion settlement the states have reached with cigarette companies.

Reno said the Justice Department could not by itself afford the suit's legal costs, expected to total $26.2 million next year. Paying for the lawsuit alone would force the agency to abandon other legal actions, she said.

"Some members of Congress are now trying to shut America's taxpayers out of the courtroom," Reno said at a news conference before the House vote. "Without these critical funds, we will have no choice but to seek to dismiss this litigation."

It was initially unclear how the vote would affect the Justice Department's pursuit of the action.

But in an interview before the vote, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. -- chief sponsor of the unsuccessful effort to kill the bill's language -- said he would consider yesterday's roll call an indicator of whether the House would support other efforts to kill similar language in other spending bills. A defeat would cause him to "regroup," he said.

The vote marked a rare instance in which lawmakers failed to heed the influential veterans lobby.

In a letter distributed at Reno's news conference, four veterans groups called it "inappropriate for Congress to attempt to undermine this litigation by manipulating the resources needed to support this action."

The groups were AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

China cold to Taiwan call for summit

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, inspired by a successful meeting between leaders of the rival Koreas, on June 20 invited his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin to join hands at a summit for peace.

Chen also held out another olive branch to China, saying the island might back Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics and offering to co-host some sports events.

But Beijing ignored Chen's overtures, merely reiterating its long-standing demand that Taipei unambiguously embrace its cherished "one China" policy -- that there is but one China in the world, of which Taiwan is an inseparable part.

Chen said the Taiwan-China summit can be held in any form or place and should not be restricted by any preconditions, a reference to Beijing's demand that Taiwan accept the "one China" principle.

"If North and South Korea can, why can't the two sides of the (Taiwan) strait?" Chen said at an outdoor news conference.

Chen invited Jiang to "join hands and work to create a moment like the handshake" in Pyongyang between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korea's Kim Jong-il the week before.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened to invade if the island declared independence.

Chen dismissed speculation that his new administration would backtrack on existing bilateral agreements, saying Taiwan was willing to deal with the issue of a future "one China" under the "present basis."

Taipei maintains that negotiators verbally agreed in 1992 that there is "one China" but each side could have its own interpretation. Beijing insists that it merely agreed to shelve discussion of the definition.

"If there was a consensus, it was to agree to disagree," Chen said.

The president said forming a consensus was "very arduous" in politically polarized Taiwan and urged Beijing to try to understand the island's rambunctious democracy.

"In mainland China, they can speak the same words from the top down and from the bottom up, but this is impossible in Taiwan," he said.

But Chen said he believed Taiwan and Chinese leaders have the wisdom and creativity to come up with a definition of "one China" acceptable to both sides.

Chen said the island would not lift a decades-old ban on direct trade, transport and postal links with mainland China until the two sides resume talks that were frozen by an angry Beijing last July after Taipei demanded political parity.

He also held the door open for more U.S. participation in improving Taiwan-China relations.

"If the United States is willing, it can play a more active role," Chen said. "Keeping peace between the two sides of the strait is not just in Taiwan's interest, it is also in the United States' mutual interest."

But a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing poured cold water on that suggestion too, saying Taiwan was entirely an internal Chinese affair.

Chen's news conference, held in sweltering midday heat, marked his first month in office. He was inaugurated on May 20 in the island's first democratic transfer of power, ending five decades of rule by the Nationalist Party.

Judge expedites appeal

The federal judge who ordered Microsoft split into two parts as a remedy for its anticompetitive practices asked the U.S. Supreme Court on June 20 to hear its appeal, acting under a special law that permits him to bypass a lower court.

At the request of the Justice Department, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson agreed to fast-track the case directly to the high court under an obscure law called the Antitrust Expediting Act.

However, he also agreed to postpone a series of restrictions on Microsoft's business practices, which had been set to go into effect in September, pending the outcome of the appeal.

The latest development in the case takes some of the pressure off of Microsoft, and legal experts said it is unlikely that the high court would decide if it will hear the appeal until its next term, which begins next fall.

After ruling it violated the nation's antitrust laws by using its monopoly power in the market for PC operating systems to stifle competition, Jackson earlier this month ordered Microsoft split into two smaller companies to prevent it from doing so in the future.

FBI's gun check full of bugs

The FBI computer that performs background checks on prospective gun buyers is sluggish and prone to unexplained failures, experts told Congress on June 21.

Glitches in the massive database that records information on about 38 million Americans have blocked law-abiding citizens from purchasing firearms for personal protection and delayed one-quarter of all such transactions, witnesses said during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary committee.

"Instead of an instant check, we have a system that too often causes needless delay to law-abiding citizens who are simply exercising their constitutional rights," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the panel's chairman. "System outages are a major culprit."

Hatch said he supports the concept of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), but blamed the Clinton administration and the FBI for not running it properly. Some Democrats, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), echoed the criticism.

An FBI representative said the agency is trying to fix its technical problems.

"The FBI's goal is to minimize system downtime. The FBI recognizes the disruptive effect downtime can have on the business operations of gun dealers and the resulting inconvenience to prospective gun buyers," FBI Assistant Director David Loesch said.

"We're learning as we go along to make this better. We've got a lot of things working that are going to make this better," Loesch said.

The NICS grew out of the 1993 Brady Bill, officially called the Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Starting in 1998, it replaced the five-day waiting period for handgun purchases from a dealer with a supposedly instant check of three databases: the internal NICS records, the Interstate Identification Index, and the National Crime Information Center.

On May 11 the NICS computer inexplicably crashed. Over 100,000 Americans were prevented from purchasing firearms because of the glitch, which took place on the eve of the pro-regulation "Million Mom March."

The FBI's Loesch admitted the agency had not figured out what happened.

"Preliminary root cause analysis of the May outages has ruled out operator-induced error, hacker-induced error, virus-induced error, or a hardware-induced error," Loesch said.

He said the FBI believes it was a "defect" caused by miscalculating table sizes in the interstate ID database.

Loesch said that the FBI could do better with more "resources."

Replied Leahy: "I understand how difficult it is to have the resources for everything you need to do. But somewhere along the line you have to have priorities here. Where are you going to put the resources?"

Loesch paused, shrugged his shoulders, and said he didn't have an answer.

Investigators at the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that NICS was offline a total of 215 hours from November 1998 to November 1999.

Huge weapons cache belonged to Kosovo Liberation Army...no kidding

NATO said June 23 that a huge cache of weapons including mortars, mines and machine guns found belonged to the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The weapons stash, the largest found since the end of Kosovo's war, raised questions about the supposedly disbanded KLA's compliance with an order to disarm. The weapons were found June 16 near Klecka, about 20 miles southwest of Pristina.

Maj. Scott Slaten, a NATO spokesman, said documents found at the site indicate the weapons belonged to the KLA, the ethnic Albanian guerrillas who fought the Serbs until NATO bombing led President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces.

Senior British peacekeepers said KLA leaders must have known about the weapons and the failure to turn them in, as called for by the Kosovo peace agreement.

On June 23, however, Slaten said there was no evidence that Agim Ceku, the former KLA commander who now heads the Kosovo Protection Corps, knew of the cache. The Kosovo Protection Corps is a disaster response unit made up of many former KLA members.

If NATO established a link between Ceku and the weapons, the Serbs, Russians and others could press to remove him as head of the protection corps.

Slaten suggested that lack of discipline within the KLA could mean that Ceku did not necessarily know about arms being hidden by others in his organization.

"To say that Ceku had overriding authority (in the KLA) is a misconception," he said.

Ceku himself denied knowledge of the arms cache the weekend before. At the same time, he appeared to contradict NATO's assertion that the weapons were owned by the KLA, saying his forces had turned in all their arms as called for by the Kosovo peace agreement.

The weapons, stashed in several concrete bunkers and near Ceku's former headquarters, included large quantities of mortars, anti-tank rocket launchers and missiles, hundreds of mines, dozens of boxes of ammunition, four heavy machine-guns and other ordnance.

In September, peacekeepers declared that the KLA had complied with orders to turn over all its weapons. On Sept. 20, NATO agreed to reorganize the KLA into the protection force in a deal personally negotiated by the alliance's supreme commander for Europe, Gen. Wesley Clark, who gave his personal assurances that the former rebels had turned in all their weapons.

NATO officials suggested some of the weapons could have been used in recent attacks against Serb civilians, which Serb community leaders say are part of an ethnic Albanian campaign to drive Serbs from the province.

Slaten said the documents, which contained names and other evidence as to ownership of the weapons, would be investigated by U.N. police. If found to have been used in recent attacks on Serbs or others, charges would likely be filed, he added.

First lady off the hook in travel office probe, though prosecutor says she was involved

Despite "substantial evidence" of her involvement, no charges will be brought against first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Clinton administration's 1993 dismissal of seven White House Travel Office employees, Independent Counsel Robert Ray announced June 22.

The evidence, Ray's office said, directly contradicts Clinton's longstanding denials that she had nothing to do with the controversial job turnover in the office that handles travel arrangements for the president, White House staff, and the traveling press corps. Nevertheless, "The independent counsel has declined prosecution of Mrs. Clinton."

Clinton said she never ordered the firings, which occurred May 19, 1993, and only expressed concern about the management of the travel office. A subsequent trial of the travel office employees resulted in acquittal.

But Clinton "had discussions with Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, Chief of Staff Mack McLarty and longtime friend and adviser Harry Thomason," Ray noted. He also said a direct telephone conversation she had with David Watkins, then the White House administration chief, "ultimately influenced Watkins' decision to fire the travel office employees."

Still, Ray said that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that "any of Mrs. Clinton's statements and testimony regarding her involvement in the travel office firings were knowingly false."

One of those dismissed -- Billy Dale, the former head of the travel office -- sought relief from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives soon after his dismissal, and the chamber launched a series of hearings into the matter.

Dale released his own statement, saying "I am deeply disappointed, but hardly surprised, at the decision by the Office of Independent Counsel to close its investigation without prosecutions."

The announcement was made as part of the Independent Counsel's office to gradually close the disparate parts of its long Whitewater probe -- the height of which was represented by previous Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's recommendation that President Clinton be impeached by the House of Representatives for allegedly trying to cover up his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Ray also criticized the White House for what he called "substantial resistance" to providing "relevant evidence" to his investigators.

"The White House asserted unfounded privileges that were later rejected in court," Ray said. "White House officials also conducted inadequate searches for documents and failed to make timely production of documents, including relevant e-mails."

Reno says politics won't sway her in Gore fund-raising probe

Attorney General Janet Reno on June 23 said she would not be moved by political manipulation in deciding whether to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Vice President Al Gore violated federal campaign fund-raising laws in 1996.

"The most important thing in any investigation, particularly at this time of year, is that we just do it right -- methodically, carefully and without commenting on it," Reno said in a morning briefing with reporters. She refused to comment specifically on the recommendation, which became public the day before.

"We've got to do this as objectively and as carefully as possible," she said, vowing later to do everything in her power "to see that the decision I make will not be politicized by anyone."

The lead lawyer for the Justice Department task force investigating possible campaign fund-raising abuses wants a special counsel to look at Gore's actions in 1996. Robert Conrad, the supervising attorney for the Justice Department task force investigating campaign fund-raising abuses, had made a recommendation for a special counsel "based on issues raised by the vice president's answers" when Conrad questioned Gore in April.

The vice president declined comment on the reports on June 22.

"You're privy to news I don't have," Gore told reporters. "I don't know about that, so I'll have to inform myself."

Reno, who will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, twice rejected an independent counsel to investigate Gore -- once for making fund-raising phone calls from his White House office, the second time for possible false statements about his fund-raising activities.

Reno defended her decisions in 1997 and 1998 not to appoint an independent counsel, saying she still believes she made the right decision based on the information available for review at the time.

"I had to look at specific evidence," she said. "If you look at that and all that has come out based on the information we had at the time ... the decision was correct.

"The worst thing you can do in an investigation is dribble it out piece by piece," she said. "I don't want to present half-facts. I don't want to present a piece here and a piece there that may not be corroborated. I want to do it in the right way."

Appeals court denies petition for rehearing in Elian Gonzalez case

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 23 declined to hear an appeal filed by Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives seeking an asylum hearing for the 6-year-old Cuban boy. It also appeared that Elian would be eligible to return to Cuba in five days.

Seven of the 12 judges at the 11th Circuit had to vote to accept the appeal filed by the Miami relatives. The relatives appealed a June 1 ruling by a three-judge panel at the same court that Elian does not have the right to independently apply for political asylum. A hearing by the full complement of 12 judges is called an "en banc" hearing.

Turning to the full 11th Circuit does not take away the Miami family's right to appeal to the Supreme Court. The family has said repeatedly it is prepared to take Elian's case to the nation's highest court. The Supreme Court may or may not decide to take the case.

Legal experts have said the court is unlikely to take the case because the asylum law is clear and two courts -- the 11th Circuit and a Miami federal trial court -- have ruled that the only the father can speak on the boy's behalf on immigration matters. The high court normally takes cases only if there is a dispute in lower court rulings or if the matter at hand is of overwhelming political significance.

The Miami relatives, led by Elian's great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, also plan on seeking an order from the11th Circuit compelling the boy to remain in the U.S. until the appeals process is over. The U.S. Department of Justice has said it believes the boy could leave a week from June 23 in the absence of an injunction from the 11th Circuit and if the Supreme Court does not issue an injunction.

The boy is with his father and his stepmother and stepbrother in Washington. Juan Miguel Gonzalez got custody of his son on April 22, after federal agents raided the relatives' home in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood and seized the boy. Juan Miguel Gonzalez came to the United States on April 11 to fetch Elian. The tourism worker has been steadfast in his desire to return to communist Cuba.

Powell: GOP not the 'Black Guy's Party'

Retired Gen. Colin Powell said on June 25 the Republican Party has failed to adequately represent America's blacks, but he would consider serving as secretary of state under Republican George W. Bush if the Texas governor wins the presidency.

Powell, a prominent black Republican whose popularity during the Gulf War led to calls for him to step up as a presidential candidate in 1996, has previously indicated he was not interested in running for vice president under Bush.

Powell said on Fox News Sunday the Republican Party is dangerously close to being seen as a party for whites, especially because of its stand against affirmative action.

"It is certainly not seen as the black guy's party ... It has not done well in the African-American community," Powell said in an interview taped on June 23.

"I think too often the Republican Party has said we know what's best for you as opposed to listening to the African-American community, understanding some of the despair that exists in the African-American inner city communities," he said.

But Powell said that if Bush asked him to serve as secretary of state, he "would take it under consideration."

Powell chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War under the Texas governor's father, former President George Bush. Powell has previously said he is not interested in elected office.

The Republican Party, which plans to feature Powell prominently at its convention in Philadelphia next month, is trying to expand its support base and attract more blacks and Hispanics who traditionally have voted for Democrats.

Powell acknowledged that he had differences with his party and is considerably more moderate on social issues than many of his colleagues. He urged them to accept different points of view, especially on abortion and affirmative action.

The retired general, who on June 22 was chosen by Republican leaders to serve on a national security panel, said he agrees with the party's stance that the U.S. military needs more money and to improve morale.

"It's our best insurance policy to keep us moving in this peaceful direction where economic forces are reshaping the world more so than military and political forces. But the insurance policy that we've got to have — armed forces in the United States — they've got to be No. 1 and we can't short change them."

Powell has spent the last three years leading America's Promise, a nonprofit group that aims to encourage youth through mentoring, and said Republicans share his commitment to children.

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