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Building an embassy in Moscow: nails, mortar, politics

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Willie Canaday was not surprised when 500 Soviet workers recently walked off the job at the new United States Embassy site in Moscow. ''It's just another in the moves of the political chess game surrounding the Embassy construction,'' says Mr. Canaday, who worked on the Embassy project as the State Department's manager of planning and logistics. ''It's just part of a pattern of noncooperation, which included problems of getting materials through customs, poor production, and poor construction quality.''

Canaday, last month reinstated as the Tampa-supervisor of the US Army Corps of Engineers, says he had seen the dispute coming during the last of two years he spent in Moscow. His only surprise was that it had not come to a head earlier.

But most of the construction problems he faced while working on the $120 million-plus, 10-acre Embassy complex had little to do with East-West antagonism , he says. Work on the Embassy is going faster than work on many surrounding buildings.

It's just the way the Soviets do business, he says. And how a building is constructed tells something about how a society is constructed, he notes.

For example, negotiations on how the work should be done could require a monumental effort.

''The first time I went to a negotiating session, I went alone with an interpreter,'' he says. ''I was surprised to see I was facing 22 Soviets, yet no one on the Soviet side could make a decision.

''Every decision had to be reduced to diplomatic protocol,'' he says. ''That meant everything had to be written and rewritten in both languages.''

Under an agreement between the two nations, all of the Embassy's basic structural work had to be done by Soviet workers and equipment directed by Soviet contractors, he says. Yet sometimes it would take three or four months to get the type of worker needed for a particular job.

''The workers have no incentive, no pride in their work,'' he says. ''They're poorly trained, and they lack adequate tools to do quantity and quality construction.''

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