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News Briefs, part 1

Clinton Concedes Point On NAFTA Side Pacts

The Washington Post


In a concession to congressional Republicans, the Clinton administration has decided that the United States would not be obligated to drop out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if either Canada or Mexico withdrew from the side agreements on the environment and labor rights, administration officials said Thursday.

When the administration next month sends Congress the legislation to put NAFTA into effect, it will include the declaration that the side agreements, which President Clinton had demanded, should not be "hair triggers" that automatically could cause the entire agreement to be scrapped, an administration official said.

NAFTA gives any of the three signatory nations the right to withdraw from the basic agreement with six months' notice.

Meanwhile, the Nov. 17 target date for a House vote on that legislation appeared in danger of slipping Thursday after House and Senate negotiators were unable to complete an agreement on language for the measure. Congressional aides and administration officials said they hoped to complete the process by next week.

Packwood's Diaries Have Widening Implications, Bryan Says

Los Angeles Times


The chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee said Thursday that Sen. Bob Packwood's personal diaries contain information about possible criminal violations and other forms of misconduct unrelated to allegations of sexual harrassment against the Oregon Republican.

In an announcement that stunned Packwood's Senate colleagues, Ethics Committee Chairman Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev., disclosed in a five-page statement that the committee had taken the unprecedented step of subpoenaing Packwood's diaries with the intent of widening its sexual misconduct probe to include "questions about possible violations of criminal laws" by Packwood.

Bryan said he had taken the unusual step of disclosing the committee's reasons for subpoenaing the diaries because Packwood's own accounts of the deepening dispute had been "inaccurate" and misleading.

The Senate is to decide Monday whether to permit the Ethics Committee to go to court to force Packwood to comply with the subpoena.

The committee has spent nearly a year investigating allegations that the 61-year-old senator made unwanted sexual advances to more than two dozen female aides, lobbyists and associates and then attempted to intimidate them from telling their stories.

Yeltsin Decree Authorizes Commerce in Private Land

Los Angeles Times


Seventy-six years after Vladimir I. Lenin confiscated all private property, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin signed a decree Wednesday guaranteeing Russians the right to buy and sell private land.

The landmark order also allows Russian corporations and individuals to partition, inherit, mortgage or rent land. And it specifies that the government may not confiscate land without fair market compensation.

Parliament had proclaimed private property two years ago, but the law was purely theoretical, as "owners" had no right to control or dispose of their land.

In another sweeping step, beginning in 1994 Russian collective farms will no longer be required to hand over a third of their production to the state, according to the presidential press service. The full text of the decree is to be published Thursday.

Land reform remains one of the last formal obstacles to a free market in Russia. About a third of all Russian enterprises have been privatized, although the massive defense sector remains in state hands.

Subsidies still keep energy prices below world levels, but the Yeltsin government has vowed to decontrol them soon. Even bread prices have now been freed. Low-income families are to receive bread coupons and pensions will be increased to cushion the sticker shock.