Saturday, January 27, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, January 27, 2001

Bush planning missile defense

Missile target launched off Kaua'i

By Robert Burns
AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush reaffirmed his plan to reduce the size of America's nuclear arsenal while also deploying a missile defense system capable of protecting the United States and its allies.

Bush, in comments yesterday at the White House, provided no details but recalled his pledges on those subjects during the presidential campaign: "I'm going to fulfill that campaign promise.''

He emphasized the importance of reducing U.S. nuclear forces, "commensurate with our ability to keep the peace.''

"My point is, I want America to lead the world toward a more safe world when it comes to nuclear weaponry,'' he said. "On the offensive side we can do so, and we can do so on the defensive side as well.''

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that although it was too early to discuss details of a national missile defense development, "the president has not been ambivalent about this. He intends to deploy a missile defense capability for the country.''

The Clinton administration pursued development of such a system to protect all 50 states, but President Clinton decided last summer the technology was not mature enough to make a commitment to deploy it. Clinton also said more time was needed to address the objections of Russia and China and the misgivings of many of America's European allies.

During the campaign, Bush pledged to make missile defense a top priority and deploy it even if it meant abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with the former Soviet Union that prohibits nationwide missile defenses.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told senators at his confirmation hearing Jan. 17 that the administration would waste no time developing a deployment plan "while looking at the diplomatic ramifications.''

The ABM treaty "in its current form, is probably no longer relevant to our new strategic framework,'' Powell said, adding that the Russians would be urged through diplomatic efforts to "move beyond it.''

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin spoke out yesterday against missile defenses and said Russia expects the United States to adhere to the ABM treaty. Putin has warned that Russia will scrap all existing arms control agreements if Washington backs out of the treaty. He did not repeat that warning Friday, but said "Russia is actively working with our partners'' and "counts on joint work'' to preserve the ABM treaty.

Rumsfeld called the ABM treaty "ancient history'' during his confirmation hearing, implying it is no longer relevant, and reporters asked him about that Friday.

"It was a long time ago that that treaty was fashioned,'' he said, noting that it predated his first stint as defense secretary in 1975-77.

"We're in a very different world,'' Rumsfeld said. "The Soviet Union's gone. The principal threats facing the United States are not the fear of a strategic nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. And it strikes me that we should accept the treaty in that sense.

"And I personally believe it ought not to inhibit a country, a president, an administration, a nation, from fashioning offensive and defensive capabilities that will provide for our security in a notably different national security environment.''

Asked whether a decision to deploy such as system would be made in the next few months, Rumsfeld said, "I don't want to put a time limit on myself.''

The next flight test of the missile interceptor under development is expected this spring.

Rumsfeld said he supported Bush's view that a national missile defense is needed to deter missile attack.

The president "has concluded that it is not in our country's interests to perpetuate vulnerability'' to such attacks or threats of attack, he said. "And the Russians know — they have to know — that the kinds of capabilities that are being discussed are not capabilities that threaten them in any way.''

Rumsfeld said he planned to attend a European security conference Feb. 3 in Munich, Germany, meeting many of his counterparts for the first time to discuss missile defense and other issues.

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