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ASPIN PONDERS REMOVING TOP NAVY OFFICER

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Defense Secretary Les Aspin huddled with aides in the Pentagon Saturday to consider whether to remove the Navy's top officer, Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, for failing to prevent the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal.

Aspin's spokeswoman, Kathleen deLaski, said no decision would be made before Monday.Aspin was assessing the recommendation of Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, who on Friday asked for Kelso's resignation for failing to show leadership at a convention of naval aviators in Las Vegas, where dozens of women were assaulted.

"The secretary is spending the weekend looking at this delicate issue," deLaski said. "He wants to take the time to be sure that any decision is fair to the flag officers, but appropriate given the serious nature of the Tailhook episodes."

Two defense officials who requested anonymity said Kelso and Aspin met in Kelso's office on Saturday for about 15 minutes. Kelso "gave his perspective to Secretary Aspin," and later Aspin telephoned Kelso to tell him he would get back in touch with him when he had reached a final decision, one official said.

The official said Kelso had not offered to resign. There was no plan for further meetings between Kelso and Aspin on Sunday, both defense officials said.

The Tailhook scandal, now two years old, has rocked the foundations of the seafaring service. More than 40 of the officers accused of participating in the debauchery at a hotel in September 1991 have been fined or disciplined, and 11 others await court-martial, military grand juries or other inquiries.

While none of the accused has yet gone to trial, the uppermost reaches of the Navy's civilian and uniformed leadership have been hit by fallout from the scandal. First to topple was H. Lawrence Garrett III, the Navy secretary in the Bush administration. Two admirals have also been forced to retire.

Kelso has denounced the mayhem that took place at the Tailhook convention, and he instituted sexual harassment awareness training throughout the Navy afterward. He is a strong advocate for broadening the opportunities of Navy women.

In an interview with The Associated Press late Friday, Kelso said, "It's not over yet."