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Bush Orders Deployment of Limited Missile Defense System - 2002-12-17

President Bush has ordered deployment of a limited missile defense system. The White House says the move is necessary to better protect the American people from the threats posed by hostile states or terrorist groups that seek weapons of mass destruction.

The announcement was rather low key, with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reading a statement from the president to reporters.

He called the initial deployment a "modest start," saying it will add to America's security. Mr. Fleischer did not provide details, but there are indications that 10 ground base interceptor missiles could be deployed by 2004, with an additional 10 in another year or two.

Mr. Fleischer was asked if recent developments related to North Korea's nuclear program prompted the decision to go ahead with the deployment. He said no, that the timing was linked to developments in technology and research. But he added that in the broader sense, the United States is responding to changing threats.

To underscore his point, Mr. Fleischer noted the evolution in U.S. relations with Russia. He said Russia strongly opposed the president's earlier decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to deploy a missile defense system. The White House spokesman said despite this, relations between Washington and Moscow have never been better adding it has been, in his words, "a fascinating sequence of events."