Washington (AFP) March 22, 2000 - President Bill Clinton should make the decision this year on whether to deploy a National Missile Defense system and not leave it to his successor, a senior adviser to Vice President Al Gore said Wednesday.
Some Democrats in Congress as well as key Republicans have urged that the decision be put on hold until after a new president -- possibly Gore -- takes office next year.
But Leon Fuerth, the vice president's national security adviser, said the decision's timing should be driven by what has to be done to get a national missile defense system ready in time to counter possible missile threats from rogue states.
"So deciding now in this term is important if we want to be assured that we are ready by 2005," he told defense reporters here.
The Pentagon announced Tuesday it was postponing a crucial test of the system by two months, which will push back the president's decision to at least the end of the summer.
For the system to be deployed by 2005, construction has to begin in the spring on a radar base in Alaska. The president must decide by November whether to deploy in order for contracts to be let in time to meet that schedule, Pentagon officials said.
Fuerth said Clinton has enough time to review the test results and weigh the impact on US relations with Russia and its allies of a decision to go ahead with the deployment.
"There is every reason why he should make this decision," Fuerth said.
Russia has so far refused US requests for changes of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to allow the deployment of an initial phase of the system consisting of 100 interceptors based in Alaska and oriented toward east Asia.
But Fuerth said he and Gore believe there is "a fighting chance" the Russians can be persuaded to modify the treaty in time.
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