- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

Democratic and Republican senators yesterday urged President Clinton to press ahead with a missile defense system and let his successor decide whether to deploy it.
The advice came one day after a test in which a "hit-to-kill" missile did not separate from the second stage of its liftoff rocket and failed to intercept and destroy a dummy warhead in space over the Pacific Ocean.
"President Clinton, notwithstanding this disappointment on Saturday morning, ought to decide to at least keep the process moving forward," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, told interviewers on "Fox News Sunday."
Mr. Lieberman, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the president should at least authorize the beginning of the construction of radar facilities on Shemya Island in the Aleutians.
"That may mean nothing more than putting out the contract to turn the earth in Alaska for bids from contractors and then to let the incoming president next year decide whether we should actually begin to turn the earth," said Mr. Lieberman, who noted that no deployment decision has to be made before 2003.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, agreed that the next president should make the call.
"The technological piece of this is not yet in place," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation" program. "The cost obviously is not in place. I don't think we've brought our allies on, I don't think we've handled that very well, and how we're dealing with the Russians and Chinese on this are important.
"So therefore it's only responsible in my opinion to allow the next administration working with the new Congress, to start making these decisions."
National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger said the latest failure will be an "important" factor in deciding whether the system should be deployed. Mr. Clinton plans to make that decision by late summer or early fall after hearing recommendations from Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Mr. Berger.
"Clearly the failure of the test on Saturday is important in assessing how far along this system is technologically… . Obviously, this does go to the question of technical feasibility," Mr. Berger said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
The missile defense system estimated to cost $60 billion has been tested three times, failing twice. Few, however, think the results spell the end of the project.
"Too much has been made of this test over the weekend," Mr. Lieberman said. He called the failure "disappointing," but said, "There are more tests to come … there are 16 more tests in the program."
Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, who appeared on Fox, agreed tests of the system should continue. "We need it… . We've had one successful test, and a couple of unsuccessful tests. We're simply going to have to continue until we perfect it."
The senator, who chairs the Government Affairs Committee, said: "I'm more concerned the president will cut a quick deal for an inadequate system than I am that we don't have the technological capability of perfecting the system."
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and a member of the intelligence committee, said the latest test mishap "really didn't establish that the program can't work.
"The thing that failed in this test is something that we've done hundreds of times before … it's not something that technologically we don't know how to do," Mr. Kyl said.
The enthusiasm so many lawmakers have for the missile defense system is not surprising. Last year, Congress adopted a statement of policy that said the United States would develop a national missile defense as soon as it's technologically possible.
"We've decided that we want to protect our people from incoming missiles. And that's the right decision, and we ought to pursue it," said Mr. Lieberman, who is believed to be under consideration as a running mate for Vice President Al Gore, the prospective Democratic presidential nominee.
Mr. Lieberman asked whether the enactment of that legislation, which the administration also supported, means that the system will go forward no matter what.
The law, he said, stipulates that it is U.S. "policy to develop a national missile defense" and "deploy when it's technologically possible." Nevertheless, he said, the law is "subject to the annual authorization and appropriation process, meaning we'll always make priority decisions."
The system is meant to protect the United States from missiles fired by rogue nations, such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.
The CIA has said North Korea could be capable of such an attack by 2005, and system advocates want it to be in place by then.
Russia and China strongly oppose such a plan, and many of the United States' NATO allies find it worrisome. They fear it would trigger an arms buildup.
On CBS yesterday, Mr. Berger reiterated that Mr. Clinton would be considering four criteria in deciding whether to go forward with the missile system the threat of missile attack, technological capability, the system's cost, and the impact on allies and the arms race.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, is concerned about a repudiation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty the United States signed with the former Soviet Union in 1972. That treaty prohibits either party from developing a national missile defense system. "Right now, you have China with 18 intercontinental missiles … if we break the ABM Treaty, they are going to go to 250 to 500 overnight," he said.

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