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THE WASHINGTON TIMES
by Bill Gertz/Rowan Scarborough
December 10, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE WASHINGTON TIMES. All Rights Reserved.
President Clinton's decision last week to block the carrier
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower battle group from training on Vieques
Island has prompted Republicans to consider playing hardball with
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello, a political ally of Vice President
Al Gore, adamantly refused to approve even limited naval exercises.
Instead of overriding the opposition, Mr. Clinton caved. Military
sources said he feared the spectacle of U.S. marshals forcibly
removing squatter protesters on Vieques and its effects on U.S.
Republican congressional staffers view Mr. Clinton's action
as Vieques' death knell. Although more talks will be attempted
with Puerto Rican officials, the sources see little chance the
U.S. territory will allow the next scheduled battle group to train
there in 2000.
The intransigence has staffers plotting a counterattack.
One option is a Senate floor vote on a bill from Sen. James
M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, that would order the Pentagon
to close Roosevelt Roads naval station and other bases on Puerto
"We close down Puerto Rico," said a congressional
staffer. "We think the Inhofe bill will be voted on. Basically
what we have whispered in the Pentagon's ear is they're not going
to listen until we do something."
Roosevelt Roads' primary function is to support operations
A second option is to withhold Puerto Rico's yearly defense
research and development grants, a program for states that lack
large research institutions.
"You could do some things if you're willing to send some
signals," the staffer said. "But this administration
isn't willing to do so."
The Navy says Vieques' ability to accommodate integrated land,
air and sea exercises provides each battle group with unmatched
realistic training before deploying to the Mediterranean and Persian
Gulf. The Eisenhower's air wing will thus be in a less combat-ready
state, the service says.