WASHINGTON -- Pentagon lawyers have determined that some elements of the administration's plan for developing missile defenses may conflict with a key arms control treaty by 2002, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said the findings of a Pentagon group responsible for assessing the administration's compliance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty were presented Monday to Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.
Quigley would not discuss specifics of the group's findings, except to say that it determined that certain planned activities by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization raised at least a question about treaty compliance. In those cases, he said, the administration will have to decide whether to adjust the planned tests or other activities in order to remain in compliance with the treaty.
The administration has said it would withdraw from the treaty rather than violate it, but it hopes to avoid that choice by winning agreement from Russia to replace the ABM treaty with some other arrangement that permits unfettered missile defense work.
Quigley said the treaty compliance review group found that no missile defense activities planned in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, would conflict with the treaty.
He would not say at what point during the 2002 fiscal year the administration would come into conflict with the treaty.
Quigley said he could not discuss the compliance review group's findings because they are subject to change.
''It is a tentative finding, it is very much a work in progress,'' he said. ''When and if the government, writ large, finds that it will be in violation of the ABM treaty, then and only then is that the time to discuss that publicly.''
Congressional Democrats have expressed concern that several steps the Pentagon has planned -- including construction of missile silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, and use of certain radars to track missiles -- might violate the ABM treaty.
In a related development Tuesday, a House Armed Services subcommittee approved billions for research and development of a missile defense system in a way that would give the general running the program great leeway in how to spend the funds.
''What we did today was the first step, the first passage of the president's missile defense program,'' said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the research and development subcommittee. ''We embarked on a new era of rigorous testing, and I think took a giant step forward in advancing the security interests of this country.''
Missile defense spending in fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1, would total $8.16 billion, about $135 million less than President Bush had requested, by squeezing a dozen programs for savings, Hunter said. One area the committee trimmed was a $28 million increase Bush had sought for space-based laser development, the truly ''Star Wars'' part of the program.
Overall, the subcommittee unanimously approved $37.7 billion for defense research and development, which was an increase of $100 million over the president's request, said Hunter. The measure includes new programs that would enable innovative small companies to challenge existing contractors for parts of defense contracts and one that would enhance the Defense Department's ability to field new technology quickly.
Under the measure, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, would be given essentially six big blocks of funds, falling into such categories as ''Terminal Defense Segment'' and ''Midcourse Defense Segment,'' that he could spend as he saw fit.
''I think we must give him the leadership tools if he is to get the job done,'' Hunter said.
Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., a panel member and the Budget Committee's top Democrat, offered an amendment that would replace that with 13 categories to enable Congress to keep closer tabs on the money, but that was rejected on a party-line 14-12 vote.
House Democrats hope to cut at least $1 billion from missile defense when the full committee meets Wednesday to complete its version of the budget, said the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri.
The action came a day after Bush sent some of his most senior foreign policy officials to Capitol Hill to sell lawmakers on his plan to build a missile defense system while rewriting the nation's relationship with Russia.
The administration is taking preliminary steps to build such a program with a variety of options under consideration, including a land-based system of 100 interceptors that would be based in Alaska and guided by a long-range radar station in the Aleutian Islands.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who just returned from Moscow, where she set nearly two months of talks on offensive and defensive weapons, visited with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. on Monday. She also met privately with senators on the Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence committees.
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