Rubin on State Dept Employees Leaving Russia : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

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QUESTION: Are you really pulling out hundreds of people from Eastern Europe in preparation for the Year 2000?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that that particular reporter is normally one of the finest in this business, but I think that there may be a little bit of an overstatement of what the real risks and dangers and concerns and expectations of the State Department are.

We did approve on October 29th the authorized voluntary departure effective December 26th; in other words, these people are not going home for Christmas vacation. December 26th they can leave Moscow of eligible US government family members and employees who can be spared from duty in Kiev, Chisinau, Minsk, Moscow, and from the US Consulates General in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. Those employees who can be spared from duty we'll do so.

With respect to Russia, we are concerned that the possibility of Year 2000 disruptions may cause localized failures of an unknown duration in power and telecommunications. We don't expect a dangerous situation to develop. Our post ability to cope with Y2K-related difficulties would be improved if the number of persons at post were reduced.

With respect to other points on this subject, we have created a Y2K security stability center established to complement the extensive steps taken by both the United States and Russia to ensure the Y2K reliability of their warning systems, nuclear weapons and command-and-control capabilities. Both of us agree that the likelihood of Y2K failure in these systems is extremely remote and that sufficient safeguards are in place to handle these situations; however, given the potential of serious and severe consequences of a problem, we think the establishment of a center is a worthwhile investment.

We don't anticipate closing any embassies. We've taken extensive measures to ensure to the extent possible the continued operation of our embassies. We consider it in the vital interest to the United States to keep lines of communication open between our governments and we have a platform from which we can assist American citizens in need. We think authorized voluntary departure is the appropriate response.

Let me try to put this in a little bit of context. The fact is that we have done this in a way where we think it is the prudent response given the potential difficulties that could exist. I know that some of you and some others have expressed concerns earlier or asked questions about whether we're doing enough to prepare for potential problems. So when we deal with those problems by creating a process where employees can have an authorized departure, that doesn't mean we are ordering them to come home.

Contrary to the suggestions by some in the article, those who told the reporter that up to as many as 800 people might leave, that is not our expectation at all. What we are talking about, based on our experience, is more like dozens of people, not hundreds. We think this is a prudent step.

It is also important to bear in mind, as I think many of you asked these questions, we have to take this step now because we don't want the government employees to have a leg up on the problems that we identified than the average American citizen, so we need to be able to alert average Americans that these are our concerns in time to be able to do something about it. Any of you who have tried to get plane tickets and travel arrangements in late December know how difficult it is, so we thought it was appropriate well in advance to let the American citizens in Russia and these other countries know what our intentions were for our non-essential employees that we were authorizing their departure. The suggestions that this is going to cause a vast expense of 800 people being given plane fare and hotels and per diem is significantly exaggerated.

QUESTION: Will there be a cost to the US Government involved?

MR. RUBIN: We do think it's important and prudent to protect our employees from problems and we pay for the deployment of American employees of the State Department and many other agencies around the world every day because we think having them there serves our national interest. So if we need to make adjustments in their presence, obviously there could be some minimal cost.

But we think that the suggestion that, you know, we're wasting millions of dollars on a non-existent threat would be ironic if there were problems and then all of you asked legitimate questions about why we hadn't prudently prepared for that contingency.

QUESTION: This is limited to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus?

MR. RUBIN: And Moldova.

QUESTION: Could you explain how reducing the number of personnel would help the embassies and consulates cope with potential problems?

MR. RUBIN: Well, if you have major electricity problems, for example, and the electricity goes down and you only have a generator and you have to supply electricity heat - remember, this is the winter time in some of the coldest places on Earth - that the less people that you have to provide the basic essential services to, the easier it will be to cope with such a problem. So I think that's the most practical example.

QUESTION: So you have plans to be able to house people actually in the embassy buildings?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have the details on all the contingency planning, but I think it's our view that if there are disruptions in, for example, electrical service related to -- that in these parts of the world often translate into problems in providing heat -- the fewer Americans that you have in these locations, the less cost and disruption will be created.

QUESTION: I think there are like eleven operating embassies and consulates right now in the former Soviet Union. Do you have any idea was there a survey done of them? Did each embassy do a review to find out that only these four out of eleven would have potential problems?

And then I have another question to ask you.

MR. RUBIN: Obviously some work went into this. We didn't just invent these policy decisions. We made a decision as to where the most people were located, what the risks of disruption would be, and what the prudent course would be.

If you have a place where you have only one or two people and you want to have somebody there to service the American citizens that may be in that region, then obviously you're not going to take any measure unless you're going to take an order departure. So, remember, this is the difference between ordering the closing down of embassies, which we don't want to do because we don't believe the risks merit it nor do we believe we should eliminate the ability of American citizens to get services. So you have to marry the concerns about the potential disruption with the need and the urgency and the importance of providing the urgent services to American citizens.

QUESTION: Not closing any of the embassies?

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: So what I'm trying to understand is why - you know, how it was that you all came up with only four out of eleven embassies in the coldest part of the world or in the coldest season of the year that need to have some ordered or some voluntary departures.

MR. RUBIN: Again, as I was just trying to explain, it's a combination of how many people are in these consulates. For example, if you had one person in a consulate and you don't want to close the consulate, so then you wouldn't have an authorized departure from that consulate. So part of it depends on which consulates have the most people, dependents, people from other agencies who are non-essential personnel. So the more non-essential personnel you have in a consulate given this relatively low risk, the more you're likely to order an authorized departure for that particular post.

-- Roland (, December 01, 1999



-- Roland (, December 01, 1999.

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