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WASHINGTON - The Pentagon plans to begin construction next April for new tests of a missile defense, which could violate a 1972 treaty banning national missile shields, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said today.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee, Wolfowitz did not describe in detail the proposed test facility. But he appeared to be referring to sites in Alaska, which he said would be part of an expanded network of facilities for testing missile defenses.
He said there would likely be legal arguments about whether such activities violate the Antiballistic Missile Treaty but added that the administration intends to reach a new understanding with Russia shortly that would make such questions moot.
"As the program develops and the various testing activities mature, one or more aspects will inevitably bump against treaty restrictions and limitations. Such an event is likely to occur in months, rather than in years," Wolfowitz told the committee. "It is not possible to know with certainty whether that will occur in the coming year."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a speech elsewhere at the Capitol, said the Pentagon has so many rules and requirements that it would be unlikely any violation would occur without plenty of notice to Congress.
"The United States is not going to violate the treaty," he said. "If we get to the point where we need to get beyond the treaty and we haven't been able to negotiate something, obviously, there's a provision you can withdraw in six months and that's what you'd have to do."
The State Department has notified its diplomats around the world that the tests will come in conflict with that 1972 treaty with Moscow.
Spurgeon Keeny, president of the Arms Control Association, a private group, said: "The document makes clear that the U.S. consultations with its allies and Russia have been a sham and that tests will be conducted in 'months, not years' in violation of the ABM treaty, despite the lack of a credible urgent threat from so-called rogue states."
The Pentagon has scheduled for Saturday its first flight test in a year of interceptors designed to shoot down long-range missiles. An attempt last July failed.
The State Department memo drew immediate reaction from the Russian government.
According to the Interfax news agency, Vladimir Rushailo, head of President Vladimir Putin's Security Council, told reporters in Belarus: "Russia, as well as many other countries, believes that a unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the ABM treaty would lead to the destruction of strategic stability, a new powerful spiral of the arms race, particularly in space, and the development of means for overcoming the national missile defense system."
The Pentagon intends to notify Congress as early as next week that it will begin ground-clearing work in August for a new missile defense test site in Alaska, a senior Pentagon official said today.
The site at Fort Greely will be part of an expanded network of missile defense test facilities that Rumsfeld hopes will accelerate development of a variety of missile defense technologies.
The Pentagon intends to place five to 10 silo-based missile interceptors at Fort Greely for testing against target missiles fired from an aircraft and perhaps from ground-based locations.
"The world has changed fundamentally and the rationale for Cold War arrangements no longer exists," says the memorandum sent to U.S. embassies and consulates July 3.
It is intended to provide American diplomats with talking points to help persuade other governments to support President Bush's aspirations for a missile shield.
Answers to prospective questions are provided. Among "misconceptions" the American diplomats are cautioned to anticipate is that "states like North Korea and Iran would not dare attack the United States, knowing they would pay a terrible price in response."
Deployment of an interim ground-based system in Alaska could be completed as early as 2004, the memorandum said.
Bush has called the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia a relic of the Cold War. It bans deployment in any state except North Dakota of a U.S. shield against long-range missiles.
Russian President Putin opposes setting aside the treaty and has warned it could touch off a new nuclear arms race. He has suggested negotiations to reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals.
Many U.S. allies are skeptical or noncommittal of the Bush administration's aspirations.
On Wednesday, Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, agreed with Bush's assessment of a growing nuclear danger in the world. But he signaled on a visit to Washington that his government intends to withhold a judgment on an anti-missile system while the administration weighs its options on the program's possible variations.
Putin proposed on July 6 that the five long-established nuclear power states the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China start negotiations aimed at eliminating 10,000 warheads in the next seven years.