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U.S.: Administration Firm On Missile Shield

The United States says it is resolved to develop and deploy a national missile defense system aimed at thwarting an attack on America. But U.S. administration officials say they are also trying to reassure NATO countries that Washington will continue to consult its allies on this and other key security issues. RFE/RL correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.

Washington, 6 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The new U.S. administration says it is determined to develop and deploy a shield to repulse a missile attack on America by a rogue nation. But officials also say Washington is working with its NATO allies to ease their security concerns and that Russia and China have nothing to fear.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday the administration is resolved to proceed with the missile defense shield but will not act without consulting its NATO partners. He said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made that clear in initial discussions with European leaders.

"He's (Powell) made clear, and Secretary Rumsfeld made clear in Munich on Saturday, that we will not act unilaterally with regard to security issues in Europe and will continue to consult closely with our allies on a full range of transatlantic security issues."

Rumsfeld attended a meeting of defense and security experts in Munich last weekend and told his colleagues that the missile defense system threatens no one.

U.S. President George W. Bush has announced plans to develop a missile defense system capable of protecting the United States and its troops from nuclear attack by so-called rogue nations. The countries usually referred to are North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. Such a system is being developed and tested but it is far from being ready for deployment. Critics question whether it is technically feasible to do so.

The European allies and Canada are concerned that the system would trigger an arms race with Russia and China, thus making the alliance more vulnerable than it is now. They also object to it on grounds that the defense shield would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the former Soviet Union.

Boucher made the comment as the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, began a visit to Washington. Solana, a former NATO secretary-general, came to the U.S. capital to discuss such issues as Europe's desire to develop a rapid military response force and the planned American deployment of a national missile defense system.

Boucher also told reporters the U.S. would not object to European efforts to build a military response force provided it makes NATO stronger and does not duplicate existing arrangements.

"We do welcome a more integrated and more robust and a stronger Europe that will continue to support European efforts such as the European Security and Defense Policy and their rapid reaction capability as long as they strengthen and compliment NATO. "

Boucher said the NATO alliance has always worked out its differences in the past.

"Are we in full agreement on the missile defense or on the European security issues? Not yet. But we have made considerable progress, we've had considerable discussions and will continue to work with them. And, as I said, in the long run, if you look back at the last 50 years of history, we always seem to work these things out and come together and work together."

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said in Brussels that Europe must accept the inevitability of U.S. deployment of an anti-missile defense system.

Robertson said the United States has made it clear that it intends to deploy some effective missile defense system and that Europe should treat this matter seriously and with respect.

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said Monday that U.S. plans to build the missile shield will force Russia to come up with countermeasures. In Germany, Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov also spoke against the U.S. Defense System, saying it undermines the basis of global strategic stability and would make the ABM treaty useless.