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World Briefs II

State Department Retracts Sudan Restaffing Announcement

The Washington Post

An embarrassed State Department backed off yesterday from its announcement last week that U.S. diplomats will soon be returning to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan.

Issuing a rare retraction, the department said no decision about restaffing the embassy had been made. Last week, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin confirmed a Washington Post story that officials had approved the move, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gare Smith defended the decision at a Senate subcommittee hearing, and U.S. Ambassador Timothy Carney confirmed it in an interview with the New York Times over the weekend.

"We got ahead of ourselves," a senior State Department official said Monday. Another official said, "The new policy guidance hadn't been issued when Smith testified." As for Carney, he added, "Tim was reading from the old guidance." State Department officials depicted the gaffe as an honest mistake, arising from the department's belief that an administration review of Sudan policy had authorized sending U.S. diplomats back to Khartoum, from which they were withdrawn for security reasons in January, 1996.

But other administration officials and some congressional staff aides who follow Sudan policy attributed the premature announcement to a disagreement within the foreign policy apparatus about how to deal with Sudan. The State Department has advocated engaging with, rather than ostracizing, Sudan's militant Islamic regime.

Virginia Town Unexpectedly Finds Itself on Earthquake Fault

The Washington Post

A lot of people in Manassas, Va., thought a truck had rammed into their building yestreday. Or that the roof had caved in. Or that a sonic boom had rolled by. Turns out it was just an earthquake.

At precisely 1:45 p.m., a quake registering 2.5 on the Richter scale jostled the city of Manassas, according to officials with the U.S. Geological Survey. Residents were stirred but not quite shaken: No injuries, collapsed buildings or broken dishes were reported.

"It's what we would call a very minor seismic event," said John Minsch, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo. "If this happened in California, no one would probably even notice."

Historically, there are two active areas in Virginia, according to Martin Chapman, a research associate at Virginia Tech's Seismological Observatory in Blacksburg. One runs along the James River between Charlottesville and Richmond and is known as the Central Virginia Seismic Zone; the other is an area centered on Giles County in southwest Virginia - which had a 5.8-magnitude quake 100 years ago. As for Northern Virginia, scattered earthquakes have shaken residents over the decades.

County officials said they received more than 75 calls about the tremor. "The basic report is that they heard a rumbling or an explosion, and the house or building they were in started shaking," said Kevin McGee, spokesman for Prince William County Fire and Rescue.