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Friday, 7 July, 2000, 03:46 GMT 04:46 UK
Critics round on US missile plan
A mobile missile launcher
The US is concerned about the spread of missile technology
A group of 50 Nobel Prize laureates has warned President Clinton that his proposed anti-missile system would be premature, wasteful and dangerous.

In an open letter, the scientists say the national missile defence shield would offer little protection and do grave harm to the nation's security interests by sparking a dangerous arms race.

A nuclear explosion
Some fear the missile defence system will spawn a new arms race
Earlier, China had again warned the US against developing the system, saying it would view such a development as "blatant interference" in Beijing's affairs.

The renewed controversy came the day before a crucial test by the US military of the interceptor missile that is at the heart of Washington's proposals for National Missile (NMD) and Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) systems.

The test, due to go ahead at 0200 GMT on Saturday, has itself been criticised by the group of scientists.

In their letter, they question the adequacy of the test, saying that it falls far short of what is needed.

Pentagon spokesman Craig Quigley denied that the test conditions had been simplified.

The outcome of the test will be crucial in determining President Clinton's final decision on whether to go ahead with the construction of the $60bn project. He says he will make the decision before the end of the year.

Russia and China, which believe the systems would undermine their nuclear deterrents, have been the most vocal critics of the scheme.

All systems go

The US Defense Department has said that all systems are ready for Friday's test over the Pacific Ocean.

Weather permitting, a Minuteman intercontinental missile containing a dummy warhead is scheduled to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, towards the Pacific Marshall Islands sometime during a four-hour window beginning at 1900 local time (0200 GMT on Saturday).

An interceptor missile will be fired from Kwajalein Atoll 6,919km (4,300 miles) away about 20 minutes after the Vandenberg launch in an attempt to manoeuvre, intercept and destroy the "enemy" warhead 230km above the earth.

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See also:

05 Jun 00 | Europe
Why Russia fears US 'Star Wars'
09 Jun 00 | Europe
Rift over Star Wars
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