- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

Karl Rove, President Bushs senior political adviser, planned to meet today with top Pentagon officials concerned about the Vieques bombing range issue, but he abruptly canceled his attendance at the session after The Washington Times questioned him about the upcoming meeting.
Mr. Rove has been under intense criticism from some Republicans for involving himself in the national security issue of whether the Navy should continue using Puerto Ricos Vieques island as a training range. Mr. Bush last week announced the Navy would leave the site by 2003.
A source close to the White House said yesterday that Mr. Rove planned to go to the Pentagon this morning. The agenda, the source said, included a discussion of having the Navy move its range from the Puerto Rican island to a site in southern Texas near Kingsville.
The source said the participants are to include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Navy Secretary Gordon England and Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations. Later, Adm. Robert Natter, who commands the Atlantic Fleet, which trains at Vieques, is to present alternatives to using the island, including the possibility of moving to the Texas site.
Mr. Rove, in an interview yesterday with The Washington Times, initially confirmed his attendance at the planned meeting. But he said his purpose in attending was to brief Mr. England on the views of Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon, not to discuss Vieques.
"So my understanding is that its to talk about — to give England whatever insights about Calderon before he goes to Puerto Rico," Mr. Rove said.
Mr. Rove called The Times last night to say he had discussed the matter with Mr. England over the phone and that he would not attend todays scheduled meeting.
The Vieques matter has emerged as a front-burner issue for the president. After pledging as a candidate to back a referendum on Vieques, Mr. Bush last week stunned pro-defense Republicans by saying he wants the Navy to abandon Vieques by 2003. A section of the island is prime training ground for Navy pilots, seamen and Marines before they deploy to dangerous spots overseas.
The White House also wants Congress to repeal a law setting up the referendum in November in which Vieques residents will decide whether the Navy stays or goes. Mr. England says a panel of experts will examine new sites for the Atlantic Fleet.
Mr. Rove planned to go to the Pentagon at a time when some Republicans are complaining he is already too involved in a national security issue. Angry Republicans have accused Mr. Rove of engineering the presidents Vieques decision to garner favor with Hispanic voters.
The Vieques issue has inflamed many activists in Puerto Rico. Left-wing Puerto Rican officials have organized a series of demonstrations outside and on the range during the past two years. The issue has gained some resonance with Hispanics in the United States.
Mr. Rove denied critics claims that Mr. Bush made the decision based on Hispanic votes. Mr. Rove said Mexican-Americans and Cuban-Americans, for example, have different priorities than Puerto Ricans.
"If youre a Mexican-American living in Boston or Kansas City, you dont care about this [Vieques]," he said.
Mr. Rove was also asked if he is trying to persuade the Navy to urge Congress to rescind the referendum bill.
"Well, let me put this in context," Mr. Rove replied. "England came to see me to inform the White House what his decision was about this. And part of the decision was to appoint a group to spend 90 days looking into the alternatives that have been identified for him, and then also to ask Congress to rescind … its legislation from last year that committed us to this binding referendum."
"The Navy Department and the White House both believe that it is a bad precedent to have important national security decisions made by local referenda," Mr. Rove said.
If the White House were to sell the Navy and Marine Corps on the Texas site, it can avoid having to go through with the referendum. The law states that if the chief of naval operations and the Marine Corps commandant certify to Congress that they have found an acceptable alternative, then the referendum is canceled — something the Bush White House wants.
Before Mr. Bush announced the decision to abandon Vieques, Mr. Rove met last week at the White House with New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who is up for re-election next year and has pressed Mr. Bush to evict the Navy from Vieques. The next day, Mr. Rove hosted a meeting with Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. England. Mr. England later that day went to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on the presidents decision.
The source said Adm. Natter, who helped negotiate the original agreement with Puerto Rico to hold the referendum, is not opposed to the Texas site, but believes it would take beyond 2003 to have it ready for use.
But Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and Senate Armed Services Committee member, said the Texas site is not a valid alternative.
He said in an interview that an existing commercial and general aviation route in the area would prevent Navy ships from firing their guns. And an intercoastal waterway would prevent Marines from conducting amphibious landings. That would leave only the possibility of the Navy practicing aerial bombing. The advantage of Vieques, he said, is that all three war-fighting skills can be executed at the same time.
"There is no possible way it could be used for integrated training," said Mr. Inhofe, who has visited the site and talked to local promoters. "It could only be used as a bombing range."
Mr. Inhofe has vowed to wage an all-out battle to keep the White House from repealing the referendum law, which is contained in this years defense authorization bill.
"Ill do whats necessary," he said. "One thing about the Senate: One guy can stop it if they try to repeal the law."
In explaining Mr. Bushs rationale, Mr. Rove said, "The previous administration and last years Congress bound the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps to a decision to be held in Precinct 91 of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, on whether or not the Navy should train on the island of Vieques — one precinct, Precinct 91."
In November of last year, 67 percent of the people in Precinct 91 voted for Mrs. Calderon, who took the view that the U.S. military should quit the training exercises immediately.
"We think … [the referendum on Vieques] is a very bad policy and would be a terrible precedent to establish," Mr. Rove added.

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