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Powell: Administration Committed to Reducing Nuclear Inventory - 2002-03-12

Secretary of State Colin Powell is rejecting suggestions that a nuclear policy review underway in the Bush administration would make the United States more prone to use nuclear weapons or require a resumption of nuclear testing. He spoke at a Senate hearing Tuesday in response to members' concerns about the draft policy.

Mr. Powell was appearing at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to defend the administration's diplomatic budget. But he spent a good part of the session defending U.S. nuclear policy in light of the controversial policy paper, which was leaked to major U.S. newspapers last weekend.

Though an administration spokesman refuse to elaborate on the contents, the paper is reported to call for a shift in Pentagon contingency planning away from Cold-War nuclear scenarios. It also allegedly identifies as potential U.S. targets countries which are believed to be developing weapons of mass destruction such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya.

The report also reportedly stresses a need to develop more effective earth-penetrating nuclear weapons that could destroy heavily fortified underground bunkers where such countries' nuclear, biological or chemical weapons might be stored.

Publication of the paper has generated criticism of the administration, including, at the Senate hearing, from Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who said expanding the list of potential nuclear targets suggests a reversal of a long trend by the United States toward disarmament.

"It seems to me that we are turning away from what was our traditional approach to arms control, which was a very deliberate, concerted, consistent effort to limit the use of nuclear weapons, not to expand their use. Second, with the discovery of these new targets, it seems to me that the hope on many sides that we could reduce the number of warheads and launchers might be frustrated by the simple increase in targets in these different countries. And finally, the proposal or discussion to develop new classes of nuclear weapons raises the issue of nuclear testing," he said.

Mr. Powell however, insisted the Bush administration is committed to reducing its nuclear inventory -- which he stressed is now only one third as large as it was at the height of the Cold War and could soon be reduced much further under the proposed new U.S.-Russian arms reduction accord.

He said it is only common sense and prudence for the United States to factor new potential users of weapons of mass destruction into its targeting strategy. But Mr. Powell flatly rejected the idea that the revised doctrine would make a U.S. resort to nuclear arms more likely.

"With respect to reports that somehow we are thinking of preemptively going after somebody, or that in one editorial I read this morning, we have lowered the nuclear threshold. We have done no such thing. There is no way to read the document and come to the conclusion that the United States will be more likely or will more quickly go to the use of nuclear weapons. Quite the contrary. We have now an overwhelming conventional non-nuclear capacity, even greater that it was ten years ago," Mr. Powell said.

The Secretary of State said the United States has no new nuclear weapons or designs under study that would require nuclear testing, and said while the Bush administration does not support the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, it remains committed to a moratorium on testing.

Mr. Powell said the current administration is no more inclined to use nuclear weapons than its predecessors. At the same time, he said, it is not a "bad thing" for countries that may be seeking weapons of mass destruction to know that President Bush has a "full range of options" available to him to deter potential adversaries and defend the United States.