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News Briefs

U.S., Taiwan Officials Met Secretly

The Washington Post

Senior Clinton administration officials met secretly in New York with Taiwan's national security adviser in March to discuss China's position on Taiwan and to counsel Taiwan against taking any provocative actions while China was conducting huge military exercises nearby, the State Department disclosed Thursday.

The March 11 discussion involving Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff, Deputy National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, and Taiwanese official Ting Mou-Shih was the highest-level such meeting held since the two countries severed formal diplomatic relations in 1979, according to several U.S. officials.

U.S. officials did not disclose the Taiwan meeting to the Chinese government, which has in the past protested any official U.S. government contact with any representative of Taiwan's leadership. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and reacted sharply after Taiwan's president was allowed to visit New York state and deliver a speech last year that celebrated warmer ties with the United States.

The March meeting came two days after President Clinton had authorized the Pentagon to move a second aircraft carrier battle group closer to Taiwan in a display of force aimed at dissuading China from taking any military actions against Taiwan. Washington had denounced China's military exercises in the strait between Taiwan and mainland China as "reckless" provocations that could lead to accidental war.

Clinton Vetoes Product-Liability Bill


President Clinton Thursday vetoed popular legislation limiting legal damage awards for defective products, defending himself on safety and states' rights grounds against Republican charges of repaying trial lawyers for campaign contributions.

In an extended Oval Office explanation of his presidency's 15th veto, Clinton was flanked by sympathetic plaintiffs and Mississippi's Democratic attorney general as he acknowledged a need for civil justice improvements but rejected the bill despite its bipartisan support in Congress.

"I do not believe that we have to have a legal system which shuts the door on the legitimate problems of ordinary people in order to get rid of frivolous lawsuits and excess legal expense," Clinton said. He said he would sign a bill with more "balance" between business and consumer rights.

Republicans promised to make a presidential campaign issue of the veto, which was denounced by business groups but welcomed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and opponents of the tobacco and firearms industries.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors have been running TV ads in electorally crucial states slamming Clinton for his planned veto.

U.S. Fears Iran Is Hiding Missiles

Los Angeles Times

The Pentagon said Thursday that it suspects a series of tunnels Iran was recently discovered digging along its Persian Gulf coast are intended for use as long-range missile sites. But Iran denied that it is up to anything.

While citing the tunnels, Navy Cmdr. Joe March, a Pentagon spokesman, stressed that no weapons had been spotted and insisted that the Clinton administration has only "limited information" about what is going on.

But, he said, "any action which Iran takes to enhance its military capability is a concern to the U.S. and its allies in the region and elsewhere."

In Iran, Tehran Radio said that Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi had denounced the Pentagon report as "a simple-minded justification to sell advanced American arms to the Zionist regime (Israel)."

News of the discovery was first reported this week in Jane's Defense Weekly, a magazine that follows defense issues closely.