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U.S.: President May Be Closer To Missile Decision

U.S. President Bill Clinton is edging closer to a decision on whether to start building a limited national defense system against nuclear missiles. Pentagon experts will make their recommendations soon and Clinton is expected to decide this summer. RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports about the latest developments in Washington.

Washington, 16 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United States is moving closer to a decision to build a limited defense system aimed at intercepting and shooting down nuclear missiles launched by so called rogue nations.

White House spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Thursday that President Bill Clinton is awaiting advice on the issue from Defense Department experts.

"The president has not made any kind of decision on deployment and will not do so until he gets a recommendation during the summer from the Pentagon."

Published reports say administration lawyers have advised Clinton that in their view the U.S. could begin building the first piece of a defense system without violating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the then Soviet Union. Moscow is opposed to the U.S. building a nuclear shield despite assurances by Washington that it would be aimed only against rogue states.

Reporters asked Crowley whether the need to build such a system is lessened following a historic summit meeting this week between North and South Korea. The two Koreas agreed to seek reconciliation after 50 years. The U.S. views North Korea as a rogue state that has a potential to eventually build nuclear missiles.

"Our determination to develop and potentially field an NMD (national missile defense) capability is based on an emerging missile threat that is not exclusive to North Korea. It includes other countries in the Middle East -- Iran, Iraq being two examples."

The prospect of withdrawing from the ABM Treaty already have threatened to undermine relations with Russia. Moscow fears that the U.S. is trying to neutralize Russian nuclear capabilities.

Crowley said Washington will keep consulting with Russia.

"We continue our dialogue with the Russian government on both how we view the threat, and we will continue to discuss with them how we can potentially work cooperatively to deal with it. So we have extensive discussions with Russia, we have extensive discussions ongoing with our allies."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States does not intend to abrogate the ABM Treaty.

"The goal and the intent that we have been pursuing, the policy that we have been pursuing is to maintain the ABM Treaty and its contribution to strategic stability, but to amend the ABM Treaty to take into account the new threats."

U.S. officials say time is running out because there could be a potential missile threat as early as 2005.

Crowley said in order to start building the system, the construction process must get under way next year to meet the 2005 deadline.