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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"The US is stepping up its plan for missile defence"
 real 56k

Spurgeon Keeny Jnr, Arms Control Association
"This has been anticipated for some time but the way it has been presented is extremely alarming"
 real 56k

The Deputy Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz
"The time has come to lift our heads from the sand"
 real 56k

Friday, 13 July, 2001, 05:32 GMT 06:32 UK
Critics take aim at missile defence
US President George W Bush
A basic system could be in place within five years
US plans to speed up the timetable for developing a missile defence system have drawn sharp reactions from Russian and domestic critics.

Former Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev called US consultations with allies and with Moscow a "smokescreen" to cover a decision that had already been taken, the Russian news agency RIA reported.

Igor Sergeyev, security advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Sergeyev said Russia would not beg
But Mr Sergeyev - now a top security advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin - said Russia would not panic or "beg the United States to stick to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty".

US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate that the Bush administration expected to "bump up" against the ABM Treaty, which puts severe limits on systems like the one the US is considering, "in months rather than years".

Seeking agreement

But he added that Washington was aiming to reach an agreement with Russia to avoid breaching the 1972 treaty, allowing both countries to "move beyond it".

US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in Moscow
Mr Wolfowitz has been to Moscow for discussions
George W Bush's National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, said Mr Bush would raise the issue again with Mr Putin on the sidelines of a summit in Italy later this month.

Missile defence has been brought into sharp focus by a test planned for Saturday - the first since Mr Bush took office.

Previous tests have ended in failure.

A US arms control expert said Saturday's test would prove critical to Mr Bush.

Key test

"If this test fails, it will have a major impact on the credibility of the US president," said Joseph Cirincone of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

They have spent a long time doing everything possible to make this a successful test

Joseph Cirincone, arms control expert
He said that the test had been designed to be as easy as possible.

"They have spent a long time doing everything possible to make this a successful test. They should be able to do this," he said.

The BBC defence correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, says that despite Washington's decision to press ahead with the scheme, the political, diplomatic and technical hurdles remain immense.

Democratic scepticism

Key Democrats are sceptical of the project and are urging a cautious approach to research and testing - a view shared, according to opinion polls by a majority of ordinary Americans.

If Saturday's test is not successful, Democrats will have a powerful position from which to fight the Pentagon's request for a 57% increase in the programme's budget, to $8.3 billion for 2002.

Pentagon diagram of ballistic missile threat
The US hopes the system will provide early warning of an attack
Preliminary work on a new test facility at Fort Greely in Alaska could begin as early as next month. The eventual aim is to base a small number of interceptor missiles there.

By 2004, the Americans also want to upgrade an important radar installation on Shemya Island in Alaska, and officials believe that a rudimentary missile defence system could be operational by 2005.

The new test site would enable test launches of dummy missiles with flight paths towards the United States. This would provide a realistic target.

If tests are successful, Fort Greely could provide an interim - albeit limited - defensive capability.

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See also:

12 Jul 01 | Americas
Death throes of ABM treaty
13 Jun 01 | Europe
Bush upbeat on missile defence
29 May 01 | Europe
Nato baulks at US missile plan
15 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US meets China over missile defence
11 May 01 | Europe
Russia wary of US missile plan
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