Diplomatic row over US embassies

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AS THE remains of the Americans killed in Nairobi returned to a reception fit for a superpower's fallen heroes, the United States State Department was having to cope with a welter of adverse diplomatic fall- out from last week's bombings.

The US ambassador to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, who was cut and bruised in the bombing, disclosed that she had twice in the past year requested a new embassy building in Nairobi for security reasons, but both requests had been rejected on cost grounds.

First in December, then in a direct communication to the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in May, Ms Bushnell "indicated that resource constraints were endangering embassy personnel", the State Department's assistant secretary for administration, Patrick Kennedy, told reporters.

Mr Kennedy said: "Unfortunately, we simply lack the money to respond immediately to all the needs of embassy construction." He then dropped the diplomatic language and went on: "Look, I've been a foreign service officer for 25 years. And if anybody thinks that everyone in this department isn't sick about this, they're just wrong. We did the very best we could, given what we had."

He and other senior State Department officials, stressed that embassies were graded in terms of their assessed risk factor, and neither Nairobi nor the other embassy bombed, in Dar es Salaam, were deemed high-risk posts. The budget was under strain because of requirements for new embassies in the former Soviet Union, and urgent new safety measures elsewhere.

The State Department said that some of Ms Bushnell's concerns had been met, but the main one - the lack of distance between the front of the embassy and the main road - could not be remedied without a new building.

The State Department has long complained about the reluctance of Congress to approve funds for the foreign service. On Wednesday, President Bill Clinton ordered a full review of security at American embassies world- wide and intimated that he would ask Congress for more money. He is particularly keen to have the two bombed embassies rebuilt as rapidly as possible to signal America's determination not to retreat. Although Congress is in recess, several members indicated that an Administration request for emergency funds would be treated favourably.

Ms Bushnell went on Kenyan television on Wednesday night to express American sympathy for Kenya's losses - 20 Kenyans were killed for every American - and try to defuse tension in Kenyan-US relations that has built up in the aftermath of the nairobi bombing. In an emotional broadcast, Ms Bushnell challenged the perception in Kenya that Americans had been more interested in helping their own and protecting their embassy than saving Kenyan casualties.

"We were shedding blood. Blood is blood," she said. "We were rescuing people. People are people. There was no determination as to race, religion, ethnic group. We were trying to get as many out as we possibly could."

An aide of Ms Bushnell's said she was "devastated' over what had happened. As a State Department official, Ms bushnell was proud no American had been killed in any region for which she had been responsible. "Today she's saying, 'Now look what's happened, and it's my fault'."

Within hours of yesterday's memorial ceremony at Andrews Air Force base near Washington, where President Clinton had repeated his pledge to find the culprits, wherever they were and whatever it took, the FBI announced that the first pieces of evidence would be brought back to Washington at the weekend for scientific analysis. The FBI laboratory director, Donald Kerr, went out of his way to say that the US had received permission from the two countries concerned to remove pieces of the wreckage.

He said that it could take another four weeks of work on the ground in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam for all the evidence to be assembled. A total of 800 US investigators are reported to have been flown out to assist with the search. The two bombings were being kept separate for investigative purposes "so as not to inadvertently come to the wrong conclusions", Mr Kerr said.