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US Official Defends Plans for Missile Defense Despite Test Failure

A Bush administration official says the United States will continue to pursue missile defense despite a failed test of the system this week when an interceptor missile did not go off during an exercise in the Pacific Ocean. The official made his comments just hours after the United States signed an agreement with Japan to expand cooperation on missile defense.

Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Stephen Rademaker is taking issue with critics of the missile defense program who seized on Wednesday's failed test to argue that the administration is rushing deployment on the basis of too few tests.

"I think it is important to understand that our missile defense policy involves a number of different systems that all work together to provide protection for us from the threat of ballistic missile attack," said Stephen Rademaker. "It would certainly be incorrect to conclude because there are delays or testing problems with one system that this has implications for the effectiveness or the ability to deploy other systems."

Mr. Rademaker spoke to a Capitol Hill forum two days after an interceptor missile shut down instead of blasting off a launch pad in the Marshall Islands into the path of target missile fired from Alaska. The Pentagon is investigating the failure.

The setback threatened to further delay plans to activate a basic missile defense, which the Bush administration had hoped to do as early as this year.

A top congressional critic of the program, Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said the test failure, in his words, "points out the inherent complexity of the system and underscores the need for rigorous testing before any deployment."

But supporters, like Mr. Rademaker, say deploying even just a few interceptors with modest abilities would help defend against emerging threats, particularly from North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons program.

"There is a growing risk that hostile states could deliver wmd [weapons of mass destruction] by ballistic missiles to all parts of Europe within the decade," he said. "Further, if North Korea chooses to sell its longer-range ballistic missiles to customers in the Middle East, as it has done with its shorter-range systems, the risk to our friends and allies could grow exponentially."

Target missiles have been successfully intercepted in five of eight earlier tests.

The Pentagon plans to spend more than $50 billion over the next five years on missile defense.

Mr. Rademaker says the United States continues to seek cooperation with its allies on the program.

Just hours before he spoke, Washington signed a memorandum of understanding with Tokyo to share information on their ballistic missile defense systems and cooperate in other programs.

Atsushi Ando, the first secretary of the political section at the Embassy of Japan, speaking at the same Capitol Hill forum, welcomed the development:

"Japan-U.S. security arrangements are indispensable for our national security," said Atsushi Ando.

Mr. Ando says Japan plans to have a ballistic missile defense capability by 2011. He says the failure of the U.S. missile defense test earlier this week would not affect his country's plans to build a missile shield, as the two systems are different.

Last week, Japan approved new defense guidelines that include the relaxation of an arms export ban to facilitate the missile defense cooperation with the United States. A year ago, Tokyo approved plans to pursue a missile shield in the wake of missile tests from North Korea.

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