- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said yesterday that Saturday's failed test of a missile-defense shield was not a major setback, and that he could still recommend going ahead with the project.

"The test itself was a disappointment, but it was one of those failures that was least expected… . That happens from time to time that you have a failure of something that's fairly routine."

The missile test failed when the nonexplosive "kill vehicle" did not separate from the second stage. As a result, the interceptor fired from an island in the Pacific Ocean failed to hit a target warhead fired minutes earlier from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

"The failure here was not the failure of the most sophisticated elements of it," he said. "That's something that's not fatal to the program, and so I would reserve the judgment until I get all the way through the analysis," he told reporters traveling aboard his C-32 jet on his way to Beijing, where he is to hold talks with Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian and other Chinese leaders tomorrow and Thursday.

Even though there are plans for 12 to 15 more flight tests before the system would be ready, Mr. Cohen acknowledged that the failed test the last before he makes his recommendation to President Clinton was disappointing.

"It would have been helpful to have had this test succeed," he said.

Mr. Cohen said he was hoping the Pentagon could achieve two intercepts before he makes the deployment recommendation.

The missile-defense system estimated to cost $60 billion has been tested three times, failing twice. In October, an interceptor missile successfully slammed into a target warhead. A second test in January was close to an intercept but a coolant problem led to a miss.

"But it doesn't mean that the technology is not there yet," he said. "I still could make a recommendation [to deploy]. I just have to wait and sit down and review all the information."

A final recommendation to the president on whether to proceed with deployment of the national missile defense will be made in three to four weeks, he said.

"It's a very important recommendation," he said. "I want to make sure that I have as much information as I can before submitting to the president a recommendation which will be very important to him and to the country."

Mr. Cohen said he will carefully analyze all the information about the developing program, which would include 20 to 100 interceptors based in Alaska, along with satellite sensors and ground radars.

The recommendation must be made this year if the Pentagon is to meet the tight deadline of having a system in place by 2005 when North Korea is expected to have the capability of hitting the United States with a long-range missile, Mr. Cohen said.

The topic of missile defense is expected to come up in talks in Beijing between Mr. Cohen and Gen. Chi. China is opposing U.S. missile defenses and its official press has described plans for the limited system as a U.S. government plan to dominate the world.

Mr. Cohen said he plans to tell Chinese leaders opposed to the U.S. national missile defense (NMD) that the system is needed because of the continuing spread of missile technology, "which will pose a threat to the security of the United States."

"We never want to have the United States put in the position of being blackmailed … and prevented from carrying out our security interests in the conventional way. I believe that any president would want to assure the American people that we would not be prevented or intimidated from carrying out our national security interests," Mr. Cohen said.

The United States would try to build the anti-missile system within the framework of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed with the defunct Soviet Union, "but as long as the threat continues to exist, we're going to have to have defenses against them," Mr. Cohen said.

Asked if he believes North Korea by 2005 will field a missile capable of hitting the United States, Mr. Cohen said the North Koreans have stopped testing, but "they could go forward whenever they choose to do so … depending upon their progress that they make [in talks] with South Korea."

"We cannot adjust or calibrate whether or not we are going to go forward with an NMD program based upon what the North Koreans may say from time to time," Mr. Cohen said. "We have to assess what the capability is, and then make our own determination. I think it's clear based on what they have done in the past, they could achieve a long-range capability by 2005."

When asked if he favors deploying a national missile defense, Mr. Cohen said: "I think you'll have to stay tuned. Sometime in August I'll give you a response."

On another subject, Mr. Cohen said he will raise U.S. worries with Chinese leaders about Beijing's weapons proliferation activities, specifically related to Iran and Pakistan. His message will be that "we need to curb the proliferation of missile technology."

Recent U.S. intelligence reports have indicated that China is assisting Libya with long-range missiles and also is supplying Pakistan with missile technology. Intelligence reports also have indicated continuing cooperation between Iran and China on nuclear-weapons technology.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cohen said he would have opposed a move by China's state-run news agency into a building overlooking the Pentagon.

The Xinhua News Agency bought the apartment building in June without receiving State Department approval as required. But after an outcry of opposition, Xinhua announced it would sell the building less than a mile from the Pentagon.

On another topic, Mr. Cohen said he is planning to scale back the Pentagon's program of inoculating soldiers against the biological weapon anthrax.

"My recommendation is going to be that we reduce the program, continue the program, but to target it more specifically to those who are deployed to Southwest Asia and South Korea, for the most part," he said.

The Pentagon is running out of vaccine after stockpiles were ruled too old by the Food and Drug Administration. About 100,000 doses of the vaccine will be used for troops sent to the Middle East and Korea.

The vaccine program will be reduced "in a way that preserves the program itself until such time as we can get a certification of additional supplies," Mr. Cohen said.

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