Chile's foreign minister meets today with British officials over Pinochet Foreign Secretary Cook to emphasize the issue is judicial, not political


LONDON -- The effort by the former Chilean dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, to escape extradition to Spain and a possible trial for mass killings moved into the political arena yesterday, with the British government facing the decision of whether to go forward with the diplomatically volatile case.

Jack Straw, the home secretary, requested an extension into mid-December of a court deadline for deciding whether to authorize moving ahead on the Spanish petition for extradition or letting the 83-year-old general return home.

The deadline was set in motion by a court ruling Wednesday that Pinochet did not have immunity from extradition.

The Chilean Embassy last night delivered written arguments for Pinochet's release to the Home Office, and Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza was flying here for a meeting today with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

Holding to a government line increasingly strained by events, Cook said he would emphasize to his Chilean counterpart that the extradition process was a judicial one and not a political one.

Straw, for his part, said he would be acting in a "quasi-judicial" role.

Awkward situation

But the issue is an awkward one for Prime Minister Tony Blair's government. Britain is eager not to jeopardize its close diplomatic, military and business relationships with Chile, but any move to rid itself of the unwanted case would run counter to the commitment that Blair has made to an "ethical" foreign policy.

It would also bring condemnation from the large numbers of Europeans who revile Pinochet and from the many members of Blair's Labor Party with strong memories of the repressive government that Pinochet ran.

Rights groups that were elated by the ruling Wednesday would also be upset.

Straw, a key member of the Blair Cabinet, was himself a college radical who marched in anti-Pinochet rallies in the 1970s.

In Paris, court officials said Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who wants Pinochet to stand trial in Spain, plans to go to Washington to try to see secret government files.

U.S. was close to Pinochet

Garzon is said to be particularly interested in U.S. government files about events of the 1970s, when the CIA and U.S. Embassy personnel were close to the Pinochet government and knew of the activities of its powerful secret police.

This police force is widely considered responsible for the worst excesses of the Pinochet government, including the kidnapping, torture and secret execution of leftist opponents.

Washington has thousands of secret files from that period, and Garzon is expected to ask for hundreds of specific documents relating to events in Argentina as well as Chile.

He will be making the request under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which allows for such exchanges and was signed by Spain and the United States. He will also ask to hear witnesses.

No date has been set for the trip, which would be the second by a member of the Spanish investigating team.

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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