Secretary of State George P. Shultz supports the decision of a high-ranking department official who ordered his subordinates not to talk to New York Times reporter Leslie H. Gelb, a spokesman for the State Department said Thursday.
But, spokesman Edward Djerejian said, Shultz's stand does not mean that other officials will retaliate against journalists who write stories they do not like.
Reported Nuclear Plans
Lt. Gen. John T. Chain's order to shun Gelb resulted from a Feb. 13 article in which the newspaper reported that the United States has contingency plans for deployment of nuclear anti-submarine weapons off Canada, Bermuda, Iceland and Puerto Rico.
In explaining his action, Chain, who directs the department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, charged that "it has become customary for some newspapers and journalists to print information which they know to be potentially damaging to the U.S. on the pretext that the public has a 'right to know' or that such information prevents governmental abuse of power."
Additional attention was drawn to the episode because Gelb, a specialist in national security and arms control matters, served during the Jimmy Carter Administration in the same post now held by Chain. And, not only did Chain forbid his staff of about 120 persons to talk to Gelb, but he removed the reporter's picture from the line of former bureau directors that decorate his State Department office.
Quit U.S. Post
Gelb covered national security and arms control subjects for the New York Times before he joined the State Department under Carter. He resigned the government post in 1979, and, after several months with the Carnegie Foundation, he returned to the newspaper's Washington bureau on his old beat.
In his statement, Chain alluded to Gelb's former service in the State Department, saying: "An American, particularly one who has served in a responsible national security position and thereby knows when classified information is sensitive and should be protected, has a responsibility not to take action which is harmful to U.S. security."
The New York Times lodged a protest against Chain's action. In Thursday's editions, it quoted Executive Editor A. M. Rosenthal as saying that Chain's action "exhibited a lack of understanding of a free press and an astounding distortion of the facts."
Reporter on Vacation
Gelb has been on vacation for several days and could not be reached Thursday.
At the State Department, Djerejian refused to discuss Chain's removal of Gelb's picture. He did say, however, that the incident had been the subject of several discussions between the department's Bureau of Public Affairs and Chain's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs.
"The State Department deals with the press through a spokesman and this (public affairs) bureau," he said. "Beyond that, the policy is that individuals who are heads of bureaus can make their own decisions on how they deal with the press, and, if Gen. Chain has come to the conclusion he has, the secretary, accordingly, supports him."
In the Feb. 13 article, Gelb reported that the contingency plans to deploy nuclear weapons, written in 1975, had been provided to the New York Times by William M. Arkin of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies after they had come to light in the countries involved--embarrassing U.S. officials because the governments of the other countries had not been informed.
The plans, the New York Times reported, call for U.S. Navy anti-submarine airplanes to drop nuclear depth charges to knock out enemy submarines or to shut off their underwater sea lanes.