Friday April 28 6:32 PM ET Clinton's Missile Defense Plans Under Fire

Clinton's Missile Defense Plans Under Fire

By Elaine Monaghan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton's plans for an umbrella against missiles fired by ``rogue'' states came under fresh attack Friday when documents were leaked detailing his negotiating position in arms talks with Russia.

An authoritative arms control journal published documents it said it got from a Russian source which showed U.S. negotiators want to base 100 missiles at each of two sites to shoot down incoming missiles from ``rogue'' states.

The details, published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, prompted opponents to argue that such a program would be self-defeating, encouraging enemies to further develop, rather than limit nuclear weapons.

The leak followed a week in which Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov held intensive talks in Washington that failed to shake his opposition to changes to a 1972 treaty necessary to allow the missile defense system to go ahead.

At the same time, Clinton's plan was blasted by a leading Republican for offering inadequate protection, Russia and China reiterated fears it would neutralize their arsenals and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it could spark an arms race.

The draft document detailing proposed amendments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, was first published by the New York Times, which said it had been handed over to Russia as a basis for negotiation in January.

To go ahead with the system, Washington must get Russia to agree to change the treaty's provision allowing the defense of one major city, not the whole nation.

That pact, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union, was based on the idea that building national defense systems only encourages people to amass more missiles. It is a cornerstone of international arms agreements.


Critics like the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded by participants in the research project which led to atomic bombs devastating Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, see the National Missile Defense (NMD) as an invitation to enemies to get more of the very weapons it is designed to block.

Instead of wasting tens of billions of dollars on something which cannot be proven to work until war breaks out, they say efforts should be focused on uniting forces against attempts to amass nuclear arms by countries like North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya - or by the U.S. enemy number one, Osama bin Laden.

``If we want to set up another arms race, we should definitely deploy NMD,'' Stephen Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin, said in a telephone interview.

``What we ought to be doing is working to delete nuclear weapons as instruments of international power. Instead, we are taking the completely opposite approach,'' he added, reflecting on documents published on the Web site

Though the first phase of the U.S. plan sticks to the treaty's provisions of basing 100 missiles at one site, unlike the ABM treaty it envisages protecting the whole country. And it leaves the door ajar to a second phase with another 100 missiles at a second site.

Ivanov made clear that Russia has yet to decide whether it is willing to negotiate on the issue at all.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins told reporters on Friday Moscow's position should become clearer at the first summit between Clinton and President-elect Vladimir Putin on June 4-5.

Clinton has said he will decide on whether to proceed with the system after a live test in late June, though his decision may not come until November and is becoming tangled up in politics in advance of the elections set that month.

Tests Unconvincing So Far

So far one test has failed and another succeeded, but under uncertain conditions.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said amending ABM and further discussions on arms reduction would be high on the June summit's agenda. But he added: ``I wouldn't expect on that trip there will be any sort of breakthrough on this.''

Arms control proponents suspect short-term interests are driving Clinton, who previously opposed the whole idea of NMD but changed his mind because of intelligence assessments saying North Korea was closer to acquiring nuclear strike capability against the United States than previously thought.

``Clinton's policy exists to defend Al Gore (news - web sites) from George W. Bush (news - web sites),'' Schwartz said, referring to Clinton's vice-president who is facing off against Bush for the presidency.

John Pike, director of space policy at the Federation of American Scientists, said Clinton was employing classic ''triangulation,'' depriving his opponent, Bush, of a policy issue by agreeing with him. Bush has said he would withdraw from ABM if no amendment could be negotiated with Russia.

``There's no reason to believe that we are living in a happy ending story,'' Pike added. ``My gut's hunch is that things are going to get worse before they get better.''