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Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 15:26 GMT
'No change' in US-UK relations
Robin Cook
Robin Cook: "The watchword is continuity"
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is insisting that the inauguration of George W Bush as American president will not damage Britain's "uniquely warm relationship" with the country.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said America was the UK's "oldest friend" and "closest ally".

He did not reveal whether Britain would back the new administration's proposed National Missile Defence (NMD) system - the so-called "Son of Star Wars".


US National Missile Defence will trigger a new world arms race

Tony Benn MP

Meanwhile, campaigners took to the streets of London to mark the incoming president's inauguration with a protest against Britain's involvement in NMD.

"The watchword today is continuity," Mr Cook said, adding that the US was Britain's biggest trading partner.

"It is very important that our fundamental relationship continues, that we continue to be allies of trust, we continue to be the people they can rely on in times of difficulty."

On NMD, he said: "There has been for a long time a debate in the United States about the perception that they are at risk from the actions of rogue states that might not be vulnerable to conventional deterrents.

"It is not actually in the interests of the people of Britain that America should feel insecure when confronted by threats that we would wish the United States to join us in tackling."

Missile protest

Members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) staged their protest outside the US Embassy in Mayfair, central London, on Saturday.

CND fears that the NMD system will spark a new arms race and that any UK involvement - such as upgrading the radar early warning system at Fylingdales, Yorkshire - would make the UK a prime target.

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the government did not oppose the programme but would wait for more detailed proposals before responding.

Fylingdales radar early warning station
The station at Fylingdales could be part of the defence network
Labour MP Tony Benn, who was due to attend the vigil, said: "US National Missile Defence will trigger a new world arms race when money is desperately needed to deal with world poverty and social renewal.

"The Labour government must refuse to co-operate with it."

NMD is designed to protect the US from incoming missiles by shooting them down from space before they reach America.

However, the technology has so far proved problematic - three tests out of a planned 19 have been held but two failed and one was only a partial success.

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See also:

15 Jan 01 | UK Politics
'No decision' on Star Wars plan
12 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hague defends 'Star Wars' stance
12 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hague bids for US special relationship
29 Dec 00 | UK Politics
UK welcomes Bush defence appointment
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