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Snookered in Moscow

AS Lawrence Eagleburger, the former State Department official, put it, the United States was ``snookered.'' The new $191 million US Embassy in Moscow, assembled from prefabricated modules produced by Soviet workers, is riddled with electronic surveillance devices. Americans were not allowed onto the site where the modules were made. When they attempted to X-ray them for bugs, Soviet workers complained about radiation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont has said the only way to deal with the building is to tear it down and build anew.

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The decision to build the embassy this way was made in 1972 - by low-level technical staff, according to Henry Kissinger, then President Nixon's national security adviser, who calls this a mere ``technical issue.''

Not so. He and Mr. Nixon, and subsequent administrations, must bear responsibility for this grievous lapse. Fortunately, high-level inquiries, by Congress and by the executive branch, into the whole embassy security situation, are under way.

Meanwhile, what about Shultz's imminent trip to Moscow to meet with his Soviet counterpart?

For secure communications, Mr. Shultz will have to resort to a small trailer outside the embassy. Mr. Kissinger's suggestion of changing the venue of the parley to Helsinki makes sense.

Often the US must search to find the appropriate quid for the Soviets' quo. Here the US has the opportunity - the obligation - to demand simple parity. The Soviets may exploit every technicality in the rulebook, but still they pride themselves on following the rules. The original US-Soviet agreeement on new embassies called for both to be opened simultaneously. The President is right to insist, as he did yesterday, that the Soviets be held to this accord.

The best security for US diplomats lies in the soundness of US policy. But it serves no one's interest for the US to get ``snookered.''

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