CNN SUNDAY May 28, 2000; Sunday

Governor Bush, Clinton Administration Spar Over Missile Defense

Andria Hall, Kelly Wallace

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: A new hot topic is being discussed as part of the U.S. presidential race: a national missile defense system. The leading presidential candidates have dramatically different views on how the U.S. should defend itself.

CNN's Kelly Wallace has more.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Defense Secretary William Cohen extended a somewhat unusual offer to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, a briefing on nuclear weapons and missile defense.

WILLIAM COHEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I offered him to be briefed. I think it would be important and helpful to him.

WALLACE: Secretary Cohen's offer came after he criticized Bush's national security proposal. Tuesday, the Texas governor said as president he would unilaterally cut the strategic nuclear arsenal and back a more advanced missile defense system than President Clinton is considering.

He also had a message for Mr. Clinton before he heads to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin: don't make any arms control deals before leaving office.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I'm really suggesting is, is that he not hamstring the ability of the next president to fully develop an anti-ballistic missile system to protect ourselves and our allies.

WALLACE: Mr. Clinton's national security adviser fired back.

SAMUEL BERGER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The American people elect their presidents for four years, not for three years. The United States can't say to the world we're out of business one year out of four.

WALLACE: The president's team is considering a limited missile- defense system to protect against threats from rogue nations, such as North Korea. The Russians oppose such a system, and the White House charges that Bush's more advanced proposal would be even less acceptable to Moscow.

BERGER: How would they react to that? They would react by building up.

WALLACE: Vice President Gore signaled his support for the administration's approach to missile defense Saturday. But nuclear experts say both the Clinton-Gore and the Bush plans would put China, India and Pakistan on the defensive.

JOHN PIKE, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS: When they look at these plans, they're going to think that this would disarm them. They're going to wind up building a lot more missiles pointed at America.

WALLACE (on camera): Late Saturday, the Bush camp appeared to brush aside Secretary Cohen's offer, saying they Bush's advisers, including Colin Powell, former chair of the joint chiefs, understand the issues. A spokeswoman said that Governor Bush would be briefed at the appropriate time, which is usually after the nominating conventions.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, the White House.

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