WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has decided to leave to his successor the tough decision on beginning deployment of a national defense against ballistic missile attack, two senior administration officials said.
The president planned to announce his decision in a speech Friday at Georgetown University.
Work on the project, known as national missile defense, will go forward with additional testing of a "kill vehicle" to destroy warheads in flight and development of other key components, including a new booster rocket.
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee, has been as noncommittal as Clinton on whether there should be a national missile defense, saying he supported continued development work. Gore's Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, has said he would push hard for a missile defense even more robust than the one currently on the drawing board.
In the face of strong objections from Russia and reservations among many Democrats in Congress, Clinton chose not to authorize the Pentagon to award contracts to begin building a new high-powered radar in the Aleutian Islands, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
The radar is an essential element of the missile defense system because it would track incoming warheads.
Awarding the contracts this fall would have allowed the radar construction to begin next spring -- a timetable that, on paper at least, would have kept the missile defense project on track to completion by 2005.
By putting off the initial step, Clinton in effect has pushed back the 2005 target date by at least one year.
Other details of Clinton's decision were not immediately available, including whether the 2005 target date has been reset for 2006 or 2007.
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