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Bush Administration Pushes National Missile Defense - 2001-09-09

Members of the Bush administration are again defending the president's decision to move ahead with testing and deployment of a national missile defense system, even if it means breaking the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia.

Key members of the Bush administration used separate interviews to make the case to Congress, as well as to opponents of missile defense overseas, that such a system is needed and threatens no one.

On "Fox News Sunday", Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged President Bush to veto any spending bill that falls short of the $8 billion the Pentagon wants for testing and deployment. Last week, a senate committee cut more than a billion dollars from a White House request.

In a separate interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said she expects the administration to step up talks with China. "To convince them," she said, "that in fact it is not a problem because unless a country plans to blackmail the United States somehow, this limited missile-defense system is not aimed at them."

Beijing opposes the missile shield because of worries it could neutralize its small nuclear arsenal or be extended to protect arch rival Taiwan. The Bush administration has been paying close attention to Beijing's expanded defense budget and the possibility that China could modernize or expand its stock of nuclear weapons.

"There is a modernization going on," said Ms. Rice. "We are not going to let people blame missile defense for modernization that has been underway."

Appearing on the same program, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, a leading Democrat who opposes missile defense, thinks it would be a disaster, as he put it, if the United States is forced to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

He argues the United States faces a range of more pressing threats, like a terrorist using biological or nuclear weapons - that such a system would prove defenseless against. "It will not protect us from something being smuggled in," he said. "It will not protect us from an atom bomb in the rusty hull of a ship coming into a harbor. It will not protect us from anthrax, all of which the Defense Department says are much more likely, much more likely threats than someone sending an ICBM [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] with a return address on it."

New talks on how to overcome Moscow's objections to missile defense begin this week in Moscow, but the Bush administration says it plans to move ahead with deploying the system regardless of whether an agreement can be reached with Russia that would keep Washington from having to pull out of the ABM treaty.