Rumsfeld Touts Missile Defense

ByABC News
January 26, 2001, 6:17 PM

W A S H I N G T O N, Jan. 26 -- One week into his second tenure as Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld made clear that despite any opposition the Bush administration is committed to deploying a $30 billion national missile defense system to protect the United States from ballistic missile attack.

The president is not ambiguous, Rumsfeld told reporters in his first press conference in the Pentagon since taking office. He intends to deploy a national missile defense.

The secretary said the Russians, who bitterly object to the plan, must understand that the technology envisioned by the United States is purely defensive against an attack by a rogue nation such as North Korea or Iraq, and does not threaten nuclear stability between the two nuclear giants.

The Russians know they have to knowthat the kinds of capabilities that are being discussed are not capabilities that threaten them in any way, said Rumsfeld.

Russia Opposed to Plan

Moscow has long claimed that if the United States does deploy a national missile defense system, it is essentially walking away from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treatya foundation of Cold War arms control policy that limited both sides from developing defensive missile systems out of fear one side would trump the other in a nuclear engagement.

Rumsfeld declined to address the future of the ABM Treaty specifically in his news conference, but hinted that some changes might be in the offing. He noted that the original signatorythe Soviet Unionno longer exists, and that missile technology has changed significantly, making defensive systems less of a threatening prospect, he said.

As expected, Rumsfeld generally avoided specifics during the 20-minute talk, in the Pentagon briefing room.

Support for Iraqi Opposition Considered

Rumsfeld did address, however, the level of support for Iraqi opposition groups that might be encouraged to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Although the groups are splintered, and widely considered to be ineffective, the United States has agreed to provide some funding and equipment support.