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US Rebukes Post for Article on Diplomatic Plates

July 5, 1985 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department rebuked The Washington Post on Friday for publishing details of a new system, based on coded diplomatic license plates, that enables the FBI to keep better track of foreign envoys.

The Post said two letters at the side of each plate identify the diplomatic mission to which the plate has been issued. It added that the FBI has been apprised of the coding for 18 missions that are on what it called a ″special watch list.″

State Department deputy spokesman Edward Djerejian said the Reagan administration ″views with concern″ publication of the Post article.

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He said that under international law, it is the duty of the host country to assure the security of foreign diplomats.

″The United States relies heavily on other countries to help protect American diplomats, and we do everything we can to assure the security of diplomatic personnel here,″ he said.

″The Post was aware of the department’s concern that publication of this morning’s article would make it more difficult to meet this responsibility, but chose to run the story anyway,″ he said.

Asked for comment on Djerejian’s statement, Post Managing Editor Leonard Downie said the newspaper decided to publish the story because it didn’t reveal anything not readily available to the average citizen.

In a telephone interview, Downie said that anyone who took the trouble to stand outside the Soviet Embassy could see that that the code for Soviet vehicles is ″SX.″

He said the Post gave the same comment to administration officials who, in asking the newspaper to suppress the story, said they were afraid that its publication could encourage some people ″to throw stones at Soviet diplomatic cars.″

The countries whose automobiles are under FBI surveillance, the Post said, are the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact countries; Albania, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, Libya, North Korea, China, South Africa, Syria and Vietnam.

All are communist countries or are generally hostile to the United States, with the exception of South Africa. The Post said South Africa’s inclusion on the list may be related to that country’s policy of keeping American diplomats in South Africa under close watch.