Stevens doubtful that missile defense will be developed by 2005

Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens isn't holding out much hope that the United States will develop a national missile defense system by 2005.

Virtually dooming the $30 billion system, which if approved would likely be built in Alaska, is the Clinton administration's desire to smooth out treaty disagreements with Russia, Stevens said last week.

But missile defense system opponents say technical problems remain the most likely reasons for any delays. They believe the system shouldn't be postponed, but rather scrapped.

''To blame Clinton is like blaming the weather forecasters for bad weather,'' said John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World, a pro-nuclear arms control organization.

Stevens, in a briefing with Alaska press Thursday, said that even if the administration persuades Russia to modify the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, it would be difficult to approve the changes in the time remaining in this congressional session.

Clinton is scheduled to decide by November whether to build the missile defense system, a decision necessary to keep the program on schedule. But the president has also indicated he won't decide until the treaty disagreements are resolved, Stevens said.

''The president has set that down as a guideline,'' Stevens said. ''I'm one who believes that should not be the case, but he is president.''

Tom Mead, director of the pro-missile system Coalition to Protect Americans Now, agreed with Stevens that Clinton is allowing Russian president Vladimir Putin to ''veto any U.S. missile defense deployment.''

Russia believes the proposed U.S. system for shooting down incoming missiles would violate the ABM Treaty of 1972. Clinton plans to meet with Putin in Moscow in June.

Stevens and other Senate Republicans say the United States should ignore the treaty because it is not in the country's best interest and in any case was signed with the Soviet Union, which no longer exists.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and 24 other senators wrote Clinton this month to inform him that they would reject any treaty amendments that limit construction of a much broader sea- and space-based missile defense.

The standoff may push the missile defense decision into the next adminis-tration, Stevens acknowledged.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in Washington Tuesday for a U.N. dis-armament conference, met with GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush.

Stevens also met with the Russian delegation. He said he told them the United States needs the missile system to protect itself from ''rogue nations'' and suggested that the Russians join the effort to help protect themselves as well.

''We must be ahead of those who would threaten our security,'' Stevens said.

Earlier this month Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, the missile defense system director, said the 2005 startup date could slip if construction of an X-band radar on Shemya Island does not begin next spring.

Stevens said he hoped results of a coming missile test in June would not affect the Shemya construction schedule.

The first two missile tests -- one in October and the second in January -- have revealed serious technical flaws in the system.

Isaacs said Stevens and others favoring the missile system are avoiding the real problem.

''Even if negotiations (with Russia) don't produce anything, the president can still decide 'Yes, we want missile defense,' and the president can decide 'Yes, we will start construction on the radar site in the Aleutians,''' Isaacs said.

The problem is that, even after the June test, only three of the originally planned 19 tests will have been completed and, Isaacs said, no evidence shows that the system works.

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