White House and State Department spokesmen would not comment yesterday on whether the administration is considering the replacement of Richard Starr, U.S. ambassador to conventional arms reduction talks in Vienna.
White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said that "as far as Starr leaving or anything like that, I don't have any comment." Speakes also said that he would not characterize Starr as "in trouble."
State Department spokesman John Hughes also declined comment, saying he would not discuss "internal personnel matters." Hughes said that Starr is in Washington and is scheduled to meet today with William P. Clark, the president's national security affairs adviser, for "consultations, but it is also a personnel matter."
While some sources, particularly in Congress, have maintained over the last week that Starr already has been dismissed, the fact that he is meeting with Clark today to discuss his job raises the question of whether the White House has approved any State Department recommendation to remove him.
Meanwhile, Starr met with several administration officials yesterday to discuss substantive issues related to the Vienna talks.
Senior administration officials told The Washington Post on Monday that the administration is considering replacing Starr on the grounds that he has made unauthorized statements and has behaved erratically since his appointment in late 1981 as chief U.S. representative to the decade-old force-reduction talks.
These officials said Starr has shown an overriding concern for security and has made requests to issue sidearms and bulletproof garments to his negotiating team since the kidnaping of Brig. Gen. James L. Dozier in Italy 13 months ago. Starr also expressed worries that his Marine security detail was vulnerable to a bazooka attack, according to the officials.
Administration officials said the State Department's choice to replace Starr is Herbert S. Okun, currently ambassador to East Germany and the State Department's representative to strategic arms negotiations with the Soviet Union during the Carter administration.
The conventional arms talks, known as Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks, have been under way for 10 years with a goal of limiting NATO and Soviet bloc conventional arms and troop levels in eastern and western Europe.
Starr said yesterday through a spokesman at the Cosmos Club, where he is staying, that he "cannot make any comment to the press."