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Breaking News

President Clinton to Leave Missile Defense Decision to Successor

Aired September 1, 2000 - 11:02 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Word today that President Clinton will leave the decision to deploy a national missile defense system to his successor. He is expected to announce his decision any minute while holding a speech at Georgetown University. As soon as the president begins, we'll go to that live.

First, though, let's bring in our CNN national security correspondent David Ensor, who has learned some of the details of what the president plans to say. David is at the White House.

Good morning, David. What's the president got up his sleeve?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn. Well, he will speak at Georgetown University very shortly on the subject of national missile defense. Does the United States need one? What is the -- where does the administration's effort to try and develop one stand? And should he go -- is he ready to make a decision now on whether to move ahead with some of the key parts of that plan for a national missile defense?

Now, a key aspect of this is that there has to be contract letting for ground breaking at a particular island in Alaska called Shemya Island, where there would have to be a radar installation and that ground breaking would need to occur in April next year. The president would have to make a decision very soon, if not today, on whether or not to go ahead with that.

We understand from administration officials that he is likely to say today that he will not go ahead with that. There have been a number of missile tests of the kill vehicle that's designed to knock out incoming enemy missiles. And of the last three serious tests, only one of them was fully successful.

So there are technological issues. There are also arms control issues. The Russians believe this would be -- to deploy the system would be a violation of the antiballistic missile treaty that was signed between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1972, and U.S. allies are concerned about that as well.

So a lot of questions, a lot of reasons why the president might want to hesitate. At the same time, Republican Governor George W. Bush, presidential candidate, has said his administration will move ahead very quickly with a very robust national missile defense. So if the president is going to delay things a little, that could become an issue in the campaign, Daryn.

KAGAN: And, David, we mentioned George W. Bush. What about Al Gore? Have we heard his position on the matter?

ENSOR: He has not spoken recently on the issue, but in the past has always made clear that he supported the administration's basic position, which was to work forward on this limited missile defense system, which, by the way, is only designed to stop a few missiles that might be coming from what used to be called "rogue nations," like Iraq, Iran or North Korea.

KAGAN: David Ensor at the White House, thank you very much.

And as we mentioned, when the event begins at Georgetown, we will show that to you live here on CNN.

HEMMER: Now that the future of a national missile defense system in the hands of the next president, what kind of political fallout can we expect from this?

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, up in Washington with more now.

Hey, Bill, good morning.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: Let me quote from the Texas governor when he spoke at the RNC in Philadelphia, saying, quote, "At the earliest possible date, my administration will deploy missile defenses to guard against attack and blackmail. Now is the time not to defend outdated treaties, but to defend the American people."

Clearly we know his position. What's the fallout from here forward?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it kind of puts him on the spot because the president is taking the position that we can't pursue the development of this system right now because it might violate the antiballistic missile treaty that David Ensor was just talking about. We have to give the Russians, under the treaty, six months notice if we intend to violate that treaty. So the president was unwilling to take that step under his administration. He is instead halting development.

Well, Governor Bush has said he's going to go ahead, you know, he doesn't care about the treaty, it's outdated. He is essentially saying. I'm going to violate the treaty, and he's giving the Russians notice now. If he's elected, the treaty is up in smoke.

HEMMER: Yes, Bill. Furthermore, though, if the president went along with it, isn't it kind of a boost to the Texas governor anyway, and, politically speaking, it only makes sense for him to put it on pause now? Correct logic or not?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's right. If he were to go on, it means that he is committed to a missile defense system, that the -- then the Texas governor would be saying, I support the same thing this administration is doing, only I would do it more so; I would do it in a more vigorous way that would give stronger defense to the United States rather than the limited system that David described that President Clinton and Vice President Gore are committed to.

HEMMER: In addition to that, Bill, it is quite clear now, as the political differences are drawn ever so clear with each passing week between Al Gore and George Bush, this is another way for voters to define the differences between the two, correct?

SCHNEIDER: The missile defense system is becoming front and center, a major issue difference between the two of them. Essentially, if you vote for Governor Bush, you are endorsing a strong missile defense that might alarm our allies and certainly would violate the ABM treaty, which Bush said he's willing to do. Gore apparently would continue the road that the administration is following, which for the moment has put off construction of this system.

And I should add, as David pointed out, the technological issues are still being debated. Whether this system is even feasible, because the tests have not been entirely supportive.

HEMMER: A number of branches on this tree. Bill Schneider. Thanks, Bill.

We're watching that room at Georgetown University. Again, when the president comes out, we'll have his comments for you live here.

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