The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved yesterday a draft of a bill that would abolish any control of the District government over the location of embassies and chanceries of other nations.
Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate Wednesday by Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The measures are part of a proposed Foreign Missions Act, which would give the United States greater control over all foreign diplomatic missions and personnel in this country, and give the State Department authority to retaliate against any nation that harasses American officials abroad.
Under its provisions, the bill would allow the United States "to adjust conditions to encourage equality of treatment," State Department lawyer Harold Burman said after yesterday's committee session. The United States now can exert virtually no pressure on foreign missions unless it uses the extreme measure of expelling diplomats.
The issue of where more than 130 nations can maintain embassies and offices (chanceries) has been in dispute between federal and city authorities for years.
The proposed legislation would give sole zoning power over embassies and chanceries to the federal National Capital Planning Commission. Under the provisions of the act, NCPC could allow them to locate outside the city's established diplomatic zones -- roughly along 16th Street NW and Massachusetts Avenue's so-called Embassy Row; between Dupont Circle and 34th Street NW, and at the international center at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street NW.
While chanceries would not be permitted in low and medium-density residential neighborhoods, they apparently could be permitted in neighborhoods in which residential buildings are used for nonresidential purposes.
International organizations such as the Organization of American States and International Monetary Fund also could be included under NCPC jurisdiction, at the request of the State Department.
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, in a letter delivered during yesterday's committee session, said the city government opposes the proposed act because it could have "a dramatic impact on the city's residential neighborhoods . . . is insufficient to protect legitimate local interests . . . and would alter [the city's] governmental structure and authority" under the 1974 Home Rule Act.
The proposed act, which apparently enjoys widespread support in Congress, recalls a dispute in 1979, the year in which Congress recorded its only veto of a city action under the Home Rule Act. The veto rejected a City Council bill that would have prohibited chanceries in residential areas such as those flanking Embassy Row.
Burman said yesterday that city officials have acted slowly and been antagonistic to foreign governments attempting to find "adequate and secure office space here. . . ."
A smiliar bill was proposed in the last Congress. Burman said "it had substantial support," but died in the prerecess rush.