Tags: Britain | Voices | Understanding | for | U.S. | Stance | Missile

Britain Voices Understanding for U.S. Stance on Missile Defense

Tuesday, 01 May 2001 12:00 AM

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said the government understood the argument that the nature of the threat has changed in the post-Cold War era.

Proponents of missile defense say a missile-killing shield is needed to protect the U.S. - and possibly also its allies - from rogue states whose missile capability is fast developing, such as Iran and North Korea.

Blair's spokesman said the prime minister and Bush spoke about the matter during a telephone conversation Monday. Bush also discussed the matter with other leaders, including NATO Secretary General George Robertson.

"I think the president is setting out his broad themes today and indicating that there will be further consultation with allies in the months to come, and that is obviously something we welcome," the spokesman added.

According to proposals that have been made public so far, the U.S. would seek British permission to upgrade a U.S. radar station in northern England to use it as part of the system.

But missile defense is strongly opposed by Russia and China, and Britain's European Union allies are also unenthusiastic. Some members of Blair's own cabinet are against the idea, although the most vocal opponent was shuffled from the foreign ministry to a less sensitive post several months ago.

The opposition Conservative Party has long been challenging the government to make it clear Britain will cooperate with the U.S. in this initiative, but Blair and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon have insisted it would be premature to state their case when a formal request has not been received from the Americans.

Conservative defense spokesman Iain Duncan Smith said Tuesday the government should offer Washington clear support.

"The proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them threatens not only U.S., but UK security and that of Europe as well," he said.

"It is irresponsible in the extreme to go on ignoring the opportunity to help shape and influence a debate - and ultimately the program - on which British lives and interests may come to depend."

Duncan Smith urged Blair to "get off the fence," accusing him of showing weak leadership in the face of firm opposition to missile defense inside his own party.

Critics say a missile defense umbrella could trigger a new arms race, by jeopardizing a key U.S.-Soviet arms agreement.

Administration officials have said that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which bans such systems, is outdated and needs to be amended or replaced.

Bill Clinton last year chose to defer to his successor a decision on whether to go ahead with a more limited plan, intended to protect mostly the West Coast of the U.S. from a North Korean threat.

His proposals did not include offering protection to NATO allies in Europe.

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A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said the government understood the argument that the nature of the threat has changed in the post-Cold War era. Proponents of missile defense say a missile-killing shield is needed to protect the U.S. - and possibly also its allies...
Britain,Voices,Understanding,for,U.S.,Stance,Missile,Defense
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2001-00-01
Tuesday, 01 May 2001 12:00 AM
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