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Missile defense plans could violate ABM treaty

By Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration's plans to develop a national missile defense will likely come into conflict with the 1972 ABM Treaty "in months not years," according to a State Department memo sent to embassies around the world.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday the Pentagon planned to begin construction next April on sites for new missile defense tests, which could violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

The head of the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Office, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, has proposed building a missile defense test facility in Alaska at which 10 interceptor missiles could be based.

Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's statement to U.S. Senate on ballistic missile defense  

Pentagon's missile defense program  

"As the program develops and the various testing activities mature, one or more aspects will inevitably bump against treaty restrictions and limitations," Wolfowitz said. "Such an event is likely to occur in months, rather than in years."

Wolfowitz added, however, the Bush administration intends to reach a new understanding with Russia in the near future that would address potential questions about the violation of the treaty.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a small group of reporters in his Pentagon office Wednesday the U.S. will "sit down with the Russians in a way that's rational, and professional, and we don't intend to violate the treaty."

Misconceptions and talking points

Russia, China and some other countries oppose missile systems that would violate the treaty.

The State Department memo sent out to U.S. diplomats around the world spelled out what the administration called "misconceptions" about missile defense for diplomats to discuss with foreign governments. It offered questions that some U.S. allies might ask, and gave talking points for diplomats to use to explain the Bush administration's position.

The document, obtained by CNN, laid out the impact the ABM treaty puts on U.S. plans for missile defense.

It said the treaty complicates the administration's proposed test program for such a missile shield, and it indicated a U.S. intent to violate the treaty, which specifically prohibits the development, testing and deployment of a national missile defense program.

It said the missile defense test program would be modified from the "treaty compliant" plans begun under the Clinton administration, and would be "built upon to reflect the goals and guidance of the new administration."

"We will pursue all promising technologies ... including those prohibited by the treaty," the memo said. It said that although there is "no intent to conduct a test solely to exceed treaty constraints, there is also no intent to design tests to conform to, or remain within the confines of the treaty."

"As we have informed our allies and the Russians, we will seek capabilities not allowed under the Treaty," the memo said, citing sea-based and other mobile capabilities designed to intercept longer-range missiles as such options.

Missile-shooting airborne lasers by 2003

Rumsfeld said Wednesday the United States always has the option of opting out under the terms of the treaty, which would abrogate, but not violate the treaty.

"We have no intention of doing either one to be perfectly honest. We have every intention of working out an arrangement with the Russians and I think we will," Rumsfeld said.

"The bottom line is the treaty is designed to not have ballistic missile defenses, and the president has decided he wants to have ballistic missile defenses, and we are proceeding on an R and D [research and development] effort to get us to point where we can have ballistic missile defenses."

The State Department document said that although the administration does not know "precisely when our program will come into conflict with the ABM Treaty in the future, the timing is likely to be measured in months, not years."

In spelling out the administration's new philosophy on missile defense development and deployment, the memo said the Pentagon will speed up its research and development of technologies with missile defense applications and engage in "robust" testing of mature systems.

The process will be "ongoing," it said.

"Under our new approach, test assets could be adapted and fielded as soon as possible to provide an interim capability against near-term threats," the memo said.

It suggested a prototypes of airborne lasers could be available for shooting down missiles by 2003, and that a ground-based system could be completed in Alaska as early as 2004.

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