Clinton puts 'Son of Star Wars' on hold

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The Independent US

President Bill Clinton yielded to international pressure yesterday and put the US missile defence project on indefinite hold.

President Bill Clinton yielded to international pressure yesterday and put the US missile defence project on indefinite hold.

He said that technological failure and opposition from abroad made it unwise to proceed. The decision on deploying the $60bn "son" of Ronald Reagan's "star wars" technology - a shield to destroy incoming missiles - is thus left to his successor.

In a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, Mr Clinton said that more time was needed to fix both the practical and diplomatic problems.

"I have decided not to authorise deployment of a national missile defence at this time," hesaid. He paid tribute to the progress made, but warned: "We should not move forward until we have absolute confidence the system will work."

The project will not be abandoned: Mr Clinton authorised continued research and testing. But the decision on authorising contracts for the first stage of building on the island of Shemya, off Alaska, has been shelved.

Proponents of the system had argued that work should start next spring if the installation was to be operational by 2005: a date dictated by Pentagon forecasts of when the US might face a missile threat from North Korea. Although approved by the Republican-majority Congress, the project has been hit by technological problems and diplomatic controversy.

Britain welcomed the decision to delay, as did the Nato secretary general, George Robertson, who described it as "prudent". Russia, which with China had bitterly opposed the project from the outset, also hailed the delay.

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