- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2000

Vice President Al Gore will work to overturn the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military if elected president, a Gore aide said yesterday.

Leon Fuerth, Mr. Gore's national security adviser and political adviser to the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, also repeated the vice president's January "correction" that he will not require the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to hold pro-homosexual views. Military leaders support the current ban.

Mr. Gore "believes there is a case to be made for honest and loyal American men and women who want to serve their country in a volunteer force to be able to do so without fear," Mr. Fuerth said in a breakfast meeting with defense writers.

"He believes that the leadership of the military and the rank and file understand the justice of that proposition, even though they may have problems with it."

Mr. Gore will "carry out his pledge to change the system" with military leaders if he becomes the commander in chief, Mr. Fuerth said.

Asked if there will be a litmus test for the next chairman of the joint chiefs, Mr. Fuerth said "no."

Mr. Gore, after stating in January that he would make this a requirement for his top military adviser, "corrected himself very quickly."

"He corrected himself by telling you the truth that he never has required a litmus test, doesn't intend to need a litmus test," Mr. Fuerth said.

Mr. Gore will only require that his top military commanders be competent, "tell him the truth" and "carry out his orders once they're made," Mr. Fuerth said.

The current policy, which requires the military to expel homosexuals if their sexual preference becomes public, is "a posture that makes it impossible for very good people to serve without living in fear that something private about themselves will be divulged and held against them," he said.

"In our society that is changing, and our military has always been a reflection of that society as a whole, and I think the vice president's impulse is a very clear one, which is to make sure the alignment stays the same."

Mr. Gore does not expect changing the policy to be easy. "I know from my discussions with him he fully understands the military's need for respect for such issues as unit cohesion, and he grasps how complicated this thing is for the military," Mr. Fuerth said.

The Pentagon recently concluded in a study that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was working. But after it was attacked by New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Clinton said the policy was "way out of whack."

The comments prompted the Pentagon to undertake another review.

Asked if the military's views on homosexuals in the ranks is "outdated," Mr. Fuerth said Mr. Gore believes there is a better way to "handle the problem, and it is a way that lifts the burden of fear from excellent people who are serving at this moment, as we all know."

Because the current policy was passed in law, Mr. Gore cannot issue an executive order that "revolutionizes the situation" of homosexuals in the military, he said. "We're talking about presidential action to enter into a dialogue with people who are concerned about this and to lead towards that outcome."

Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in February that policy of allowing homosexuals to serve unnoticed is working.

Gen. Shelton said the current law on homosexuals "strikes the proper balance between the requirement for good law, order and discipline in the military and individual rights."

On other issues, Mr. Fuerth said Mr. Clinton should not delay the current deployment decision on national missile defense until the next presidency and there is "a fighting chance" Russia will agree to treaty changes that would permit fielding the system by 2005.

Mr. Fuerth also differed with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen on the emerging threat from long-range missiles. Mr. Cohen has said such a threat already exists. Mr. Fuerth said such a threat is a "possibility" in the future.

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