WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon's assessment of how and when to move forward with a national missile defense will take several weeks longer than planned, Defense Secretary William Cohen said Monday, but President Clinton will still have time before leaving office to decide whether to build a new missile-tracking radar in Alaska.
Cohen previously had indicated he expected to make his recommendation to Clinton by mid-August following an internal Pentagon study, called a deployment readiness review, to assess technical progress and other factors.
''A number of difficult issues remain to be resolved,'' Cohen said in a brief written statement Monday.
These issues -- including whether the rocket booster to be used for the antimissile system can be ready for full-scale production by 2003 -- must be settled before Cohen receives the internal assessment, he said.
Another unsettled question is whether the Pentagon should go ahead with the next flight test of the antimissile system as scheduled this fall. Officials are considering putting it off until December or later.
The past two flight tests -- the most recent of which was in early July -- failed, raising questions about whether the Pentagon was pushing too hard to meet a target date for deploying the system by 2005.
The proposed missile defense system is projected to cost $60 billion. Defense Department officials have said they favor locating the system in Interior Alaska. A powerful radar system to support the missile defense would be located on Shemya Island in the Aleutians.
The internal review now under way is headed by Jacques Gansler, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and technology, and officials of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which runs the project.
''I will make no recommendation about the future of the NMD program until I have analyzed their findings,'' Cohen said. ''I expect that to happen and to report to the president within the next few weeks. Recent reports that I have made a decision on this matter, preliminary or otherwise, are wrong.''
''There is no immediate or artificial deadline for a recommendation to the president,'' he added.
''My goal is to make the best possible recommendation ... not the earliest possible recommendation.'' ------
On the Net: Ballistic Missile Defense Organization: http://www.acq.osd.mil/bmdo/bmdolink/html/nmd.html
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