Russia, China hail decision on NMD

MOSCOW, SEPT. 2. Russia and China, the most vocal critics of the U.S. plans to deploy a National Missile Defence (NMD) system, have welcomed a decision by the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton, to leave the issue to his successor.

The Kremlin in a statement on Saturday said: ``U.S. President Bill Clinton's decision not to take obligations to deploy the system of National Anti-Missile Defence is seen in Russia as a well-thought and responsible step,'' the statement quoted Mr. Putin as saying. ``There is no doubt this step will lead to strengthening strategic stability and security in the whole world, and will strengthen the authority of the United States in the eyes of the international community,'' Mr. Putin said.

China termed the U.S. move as ``rational'' and called for more talks on the issue.

Beijing had taken note of the decision, and held that the decision was ``rational'', the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mr. Zhu Bangzao, said.

``We hope the U.S. Government will have more contact and discussions with other countries on the matter, so as to make a decision which could serve the interests of countries and people all over the world,'' Mr. Zhu was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

Sridhar Krishnaswami reports from Washington:

Mr. Clinton put off a decision on the NMD, saying that he lacked ``absolute confidence'' in the existing technology. In a speech at Georgetown University, he said he was leaving the decision on the issue to his successor, a position which the Grand Old Party had been pushing for all these months.

``A National Missile Defence, if deployed, should be a part of a larger strategy to preserve and enhance the peace, strength and security we now enjoy and to build an even safer world. I have tried to maximise the ability of the next President to pursue that strategy'', Mr. Clinton said.

He effectively made the argument that the U.S. needed to utilise the time to narrow differences with the Russians; to rope in allies of America who are highly sceptical as also to study the implications the system was going to have in the Asian security environment that includes China and South Asia.

``We must consider the impact of a decision to deploy on the security in Asia. As the next President makes a deployment decision, he will need to avoid stimulating an already dangerous regional capability from China to South Asia'', Mr. Clinton said.

He, at the same time, also stressed that no country could ever dictate American security policy. ``Even if the United States and Russia cannot reach an agreement; even if we cannot secure the support of our allies first; even if we conclude that the Chinese will respond to NMD by increasing their arsenal of nuclear weapons substantially with a corollary inevitable impact in India and then in Pakistan.''

Mr. Clinton came to a final decision on the NMD based on the recommendations he received from the Secretaries of State and Defence and his National Security Advisor. What he has done is to block the Pentagon from at least handing contracts for the start of a radar system in the Aleutian Islands. The original thinking was that even if the President was going to defer a decision on the NMD he would authorise some work on the system.

The President's remark on not having absolute confidence in the technology is reflective, to a certain degree, of the results of tests. Of the 19 tests that have been planned in all, only three have taken place; and two of these have failed. Still, there are many in the administration who are convinced that the system will work even if opponents of the NMD have called it a pipedream and something even more esoteric than Mr. Ronald Reagan's ``Star Wars''.

Invoking lack of technology was a convenient cloak for the larger political decision Mr. Clinton seems to have made. The Democratic nominee, Mr. Albert Gore Jr., has not been definitive on the NMD saying that he supported development work. But Democrats on Capitol Hill, even if convinced of the missile threats to the country from the so-called rogue nations, have been wary of endorsing a system that did not have the backing of Western allies.

The GOP's nominee, Mr. George W. Bush, is a fervent supporter of the NMD and says he will go for a more ``robust'' system that will take care of all the States in America and allies as well. How a Bush administration will fund the project is a different story and one that has not been explained in any detail. The estimated cost for the NMD that will take care of the 50 States in the country is put around $ 60 billions; and several times more if Mr. Bush's ``robust'' proposal is put into action.

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