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Democratic US Senator Again Criticizes Missile Defense Plan - 2001-09-10

A leading U.S. Senator is again warning President Bush that his missile defense plan could spark a new international arms race. Democrat Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made his comments Monday in a speech in Washington.

Senator Biden has emerged as one of the chief Democratic critics of the president's missile defense proposal.

In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Senator Biden said implementation of the president's missile defense plan could trigger a new nuclear arms race involving both Russia and China. "Are we really prepared to raise the starting gun in a new arms race in a potentially dangerous world?" he said. "Because make no mistake about it, folks, if we deploy a missile defense system that is being contemplated, we could do just that. Step back from the ABM [anti-ballistic missile] Treaty. Go full steam ahead and deploy a missile defense system and we will be raising the starting gun. Let's stop this nonsense before we end up pulling the trigger."

Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee have voted to cut funding for the president's missile defense initiative. Republicans are urging the president to veto any defense spending bill that cuts money for missile defense.

In his speech, Senator Biden also stepped up his criticism of what some see as the Bush administration's "go-it-alone" strategy in international affairs. It is a critique that has dogged the administration since the president's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto treaty on global warming earlier this year. "America must remain at the table because walking away comes at a price," said Senator Biden. "Our European allies should never think that America ignores international opinion or that we are ready to go it alone when we feel like it. We became a European power in the 20th century and out of our own self-interest, we must remain a European power in the 21st century."

Administration officials insist they will stay the course on missile defense because it is essential that the United States be able to protect itself from rogue nations that might acquire nuclear weapons.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is also rejecting criticism that the president all too frequently goes his own way on international affairs. "The president understands his responsibilities in international politics to be sensitive to the concerns of others," Ms. Rice told NBC television on Sunday. "He also understands his responsibility to the American people, our allies and to his successors."

Senator Biden also warned Monday that the worsening U.S. budget situation will have a negative impact on the president's requests for additional money to fund both his missile defense plan and his proposal to strengthen the U.S. military.