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The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Washington
"President Bush has his work cut out to rescue National Missile Defence"
 real 56k

Monday, 28 May, 2001, 01:47 GMT 02:47 UK
Democrats threaten Bush's missile shield
Senators Tom Daschle and Harry Reid leave the Capitol
Missile defence has emerged as first target for Democrats
Senior figures in the Democratic party have warned that last week's political realignment in the US Senate may have put President George W Bush's plans for a missile defence system in doubt.

Thursday's defection of Senator Jim Jeffords from the Republican party gave the Democrats control of the Senate and the power to block much of Mr Bush's agenda.

There are much greater threats to which we are not addressing resources

Senator Carl Levin
The new majority leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, said on US television that his party would not back the deployment of the defence shield, which he called a "premature decision".

Democrats are anxious about the estimated $60bn cost of the missile shield, the impact its development would have on relations with Russia and China and doubts about whether the technology will even work.

Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was concerned about unilateral action and the possible impact of violating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Missile defence
US wants protection from "rogue states"
"This administration has simply not looked at problems which [missile defence] creates; they've only looked at the fact that there is a threat," he said.

"There are much greater threats to which we are not addressing resources," Mr Levin added.

Mr Jeffords' defection changes the balance of power in the Senate to 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent.

Republicans control the House of Representatives, 221-210, with two independents and two vacant seats.

Nato concerns

The defence shield has caused concern even among the closest of US allies in Nato, who view the ABM treaty as a linchpin of global security.

Tom Daschle on NBC's Meet the Press
Daschle was speaking on NBC's Meet the Press
That appeared to be uppermost in Mr Daschle's mind.

"If you're asking should we violate the ABM Treaty; if you're asking should we alienate every ally, and Russia and China besides; if you're asking should we commit to something, deploy something that still hasn't been shown to work, I'd say no," he said.

However, Washington's allies have kept quiet about their concerns after Mr Bush's pledge to consult them about a plan that is still a long way off.

Bush undeterred

On the Republican side, Bush aide Andrew Card on CBS's Face the Nation said realignment would not deter the administration from pressing ahead with its plans.

We'll be able to get the president's agenda put forward because it's an agenda for America

Andrew Card
He accused the Democrats of having "an agenda of 'no'" and urged them to go beyond "just saying no to any agenda that the president puts forward".

Outgoing Senate majority leader Trent Lott, meanwhile, said Mr Jeffords' decision was a mistake and he dismissed suggestions that Mr Bush had sidelined moderate Republicans.

"The White House is doing everything they need to do. They bear no blame on this," Mr Lott said on ABC's This Week.

He also suggested that there might be a shift back to a Republican majority in the next 18 months.

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