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News Briefs I

World Bank President Plans To Spend $250 Million for Changes

The Washington Post

World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn has sent to the bank's board a major proposal for revitalizing the 50-year-old institution by making it less bureaucratic and out of touch with the poor nations that borrow from it.

Under the initiative, dubbed "The Strategic Compact," the bank's 180 member nations would authorize the spending of $250 million over two years on training, staff transfers and information systems, according to documents released by the bank Thursday.

But the bank's management is vowing to make the institution considerably more lean and efficient at the end of those two years. The documents, while stressing that no specific target for job reductions has been set, said that "the best estimate we have is a range of 500-700 separations over (fiscal years) 97-99."

The initiative marks the most comprehensive and detailed effort by the Australian-born Wolfensohn to put his stamp on the bank since he took the helm in June 1995, vowing to transform the institution.

European Union Challenges U.S. Law Regarding Cuba Sanctions

Los Angeles Times

The European Union posted a formal challenge Thursday to a U.S. law that would penalize European companies that do business in Cuba, intensifying pressure on the United States to negotiate a settlement of the dispute.

At the EU's request, the Geneva-based World Trade Organization appointed a three-member panel to adjudicate the case, overriding U.S. protests that the law was intended to protect U.S. security interests and was not a matter for the trade body.

The Clinton administration expressed "disappointment" over the European action but stopped short of trying to block establishment of the panel - providing leeway for the two sides to continue their own negotiations, albeit under more intense pressure.

In an unusual joint statement, the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative's Office challenged the jurisdiction of the trade group to pass judgment on the sanctions law and said that Washington would not cooperate if the panel calls a hearing.

The U.S.-European dispute centers on the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies found to be using buildings or equipment seized by the government of Cuban Premier Fidel Castro. It also denies U.S. visas to executives of the companies.

Clinton Endorses Effort to End Gag Rules' on Medical Treatment

The Washington Post

Sick people deserve to know about all possible treatments regardless of their cost, President Clinton said Thursday, endorsing legislation that would bar health care plans from imposing "gag rules" on their physicians.

The health care industry denies that such "gag rules" are a widespread practice. But Clinton said there is enough doubt to justify a new law that would ensure that cost-conscious health maintenance organizations and other "managed care" plans tell patients about all medical options - even the most expensive ones they don't cover.

Clinton made his announcement while publicizing efforts his administration is making to ensure that patients in managed care plans under the federal Medicaid program for poor people are not subject to the alleged gag rules.

The legislation Clinton endorsed Thursday died last year in Congress, but one of its principal sponsors, Rep. Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, said the bill has 150 co-sponsors this year from both parties.

The Ganske-Markey legislation would not require health plans to provide the more expensive treatments, only that physicians are free to tell patients such treatments exist. "If a patient needs a bone marrow transplant, they should know that, even if they have to pay for it on their own," Ganske said.