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Moscow fear over U.S. missile memo



MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russia has condemned the U.S. for its decision to accelerate missile defence technology testing.

Moscow says the move signals Washington's withdrawal from the 1972 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty, which bans national missile shields.

Now Russian officials are urging the U.S. to consult Moscow before pushing further ahead with the plans.

On Thursday a U.S. State Department memo sent to embassies around the world said President George W. Bush's missile defence proposals would likely come into conflict with the ABM Treaty "in months not years."

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National Missile Defense Missile defense: Europe's view

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But the White House says it intends to reach a new understanding with the Kremlin.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov refrained from commenting directly on the memo, merely telling The Associated Press that "making estimates on the basis of some publications would be wrong."

Ivanov referred to an agreement between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, made during their summit in Slovenia last month, to hold consultations on the ABM treaty.

He said: "We will hold consultations in a constructive way, taking into account interests of our partners."

The unclassified State Department memorandum to all U.S. diplomatic posts, a copy of which was obtained by CNN, said deployment of an interim ground-based missile defence system in Alaska could be completed as early as 2004.

Vladimir Rushailo, secretary of Russia's Security Council, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying: "Russia, as well as many other countries, believes that a unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the ABM Treaty would lead to the destruction of strategic stability."

U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in Washington that the Pentagon planned to begin construction next April for missile defence tests that could violate the treaty.

Wolfowitz said there would likely be legal arguments about whether such activities violated the ABM treaty but added that the administration intended to reach a new understanding with Russia that would cover such concerns.

Democrats: Arms race fears

CNN's Jamie McIntyre reported that U.S. Democrats were concerned that Russia would respond by putting more warheads on its missiles, and China by building up its nuclear arsenal.

Senator Carl Levin said: "If that is the response, and that very well could be the response, we then have a new arms race on our hands, a new Cold War on our hands, and a greater proliferation threat on our hands."

The Pentagon insisted Russia would agree to amend the treaty, since the limited missile defence offers no protection against the vast Russian nuclear arsenal, but said the U.S. would not violate the agreement:

The revved-up plan calls for breaking ground for a new missile test site at Fort Greely, Alaska, next April, and upgrading existing radar on Alaska's Shemya island.

That could give the U.S. rudimentary anti-missile capability with about 10 interceptors by 2004, two years before the scheduled deployment in 2006.

The airborne laser could be also be pressed into emergency service by 2004, four years ahead of schedule, the Pentagon claims.

And the ambitious plan also calls for testing space-based lasers to shoot down missiles between 2005 and 2006.

But McIntyre added that many critics regard the missile defence shield system as "pie in the sky."

John Isaacs, of the Council for Livable World, said: "It's a shield of dreams. It's a system that there's no notion whether it will work but yet they want to deploy something in the next four years."






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