WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon plans to begin construction next April for new tests of a missile defense, which could violate a 1972 treaty banning national missile shields, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Thursday.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee, Wolfowitz did not describe in detail the proposed test facility. But he appeared to be referring to sites in Alaska, which he said would be part of an expanded network of facilities for testing missile defenses.
He said there would likely be legal arguments about whether such activities violate the Antiballistic Missile Treaty but added that the administration intends to reach a new understanding with Russia shortly that would make such questions moot.
"As the program develops and the various testing activities mature, one or more aspects will inevitably bump against treaty restrictions and limitations. Such an event is likely to occur in months, rather than in years," Wolfowitz told the committee. "It is not possible to know with certainty whether that will occur in the coming year."
The State Department has notified its diplomats around the world that the tests will come in conflict with that 1972 treaty with Moscow.
Spurgeon Keeny, president of the Arms Control Association, a private group, said: "The document makes clear that the U.S. consultations with its allies and Russia have been a sham and that tests will be conducted in 'months, not years' in violation of the ABM treaty, despite the lack of a credible urgent threat from so-called rogue states."
The Pentagon has scheduled for Saturday its first flight test in a year of interceptors designed to shoot down long-range missiles. An attempt last July failed.
The State Department memo drew immediate reaction from the Russian government.
According to the Interfax news agency, Vladimir Rushailo, head of President Vladimir Putin's Security Council, told reporters in Belarus: "Russia, as well as many other countries, believes that a unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the ABM treaty would lead to the destruction of strategic stability, a new powerful spiral of the arms race, particularly in space, and the development of means for overcoming the national missile defense system."
The Pentagon intends to notify Congress as early as next week that it will begin ground-clearing work in August for a new missile defense test site in Alaska, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.
The site at Fort Greely will be part of an expanded network of missile defense test facilities that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hopes will accelerate development of a variety of missile defense technologies.
The Pentagon intends to place between five and 10 silo-based missile interceptors at Fort Greely for testing against target missiles fired from an aircraft and perhaps from ground-based locations.
Rumsfeld, meantime, planned to address a Capitol Hill conference Thursday on missile defense, focusing on what he and others argue are new missile threats from smaller states antagonistic to the United States.
"The world has changed fundamentally and the rationale for Cold War arrangements no longer exists," says the memorandum sent to U.S. embassies and consulates July 3.
It is intended to provide American diplomats with talking points to help persuade other governments to support President Bush's aspirations for a missile shield.
Answers to prospective questions are provided. Among "misconceptions" the American diplomats are cautioned to anticipate is that "states like North Korea and Iran would not dare attack the United States, knowing they would pay a terrible price in response."
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