Clinton to reject missile defense construction for now

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The Independent US

President Bill Clinton has decided not to authorize initial construction for a national missile defense system, two senior administration officials said today.

President Bill Clinton has decided not to authorize initial construction for a national missile defense system, two senior administration officials said today.

The decision will slow down development of the defense system strongly supported by presidential candidate George W. Bush and put off confrontation over the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

Clinton's action, to be announced in a speech later Friday, will allow continued testing and development Democratic opponent in the presidential race, Vice President Al Gore, prefers a limited system that would be negotiated with Russia.

In the face of strong objections from Moscow and reservations among many Democrats in Congress, Clinton chose not to authorize the Pentagon to award contracts to begin building the radar, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

The radar is an essential element of the missile defense system because it would track incoming warheads.

Awarding the contracts this fall would have allowed the radar construction to begin next spring - a timetable that, on paper at least, would have kept the missile defense project on track to completion by 2005.

By putting off the initial step, Clinton in effect has pushed back the 2005 target date by at least one year.

Other details of Clinton's decision were not immediately available, including whether the 2005 target date has been reset for 2006 or 2007.

Clinton had said he would consider four main factors in deciding whether to proceed with the deployment process now: technical feasibility, cost, the urgency of a missile threat against the United States and the impact on arms control of proceeding with missile defense.

The proposed national missile defense, projected to cost about dlrs 60 billion, is designed to protect all 50 states against attack by a limited number of long-range ballistic missiles from North Korea or the Middle East. It is a scaled-down version of the global missile defense pursued during the Reagan administration that came to be known as Star Wars for its focus space-based lasers and other exotic weaponry.

Clinton based his decision on recommendations from Defense Secretary William Cohen, who is perhaps the administration's strongest proponent of national missile defense, as well as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the president's national security adviser, Sandy Berger.

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