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Gingrich, Others Assail New Missile Accord

March 24, 1997| From Reuters

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Newt Gingrich and two other key Republicans on Sunday denounced an antiballistic missile agreement signed by President Clinton and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

In a joint statement, Gingrich, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston of Louisiana and Rep. Christopher Cox of Newport Beach said the accord would halt the development of the most effective possible ballistic missile defense.

"If allowed to stand, this agreement will place the lives of our brave fighting men and women--and ultimately millions of Americans--in jeopardy," the three lawmakers said.

At their summit last week, Clinton and Yeltsin also reached a series of arms agreements, including a pledge to make further deep cuts in long-range nuclear arms.

But it was the missile-defense accord that drew the ire of the Georgia Republican and his colleagues.

U.S. officials said the two presidents late in their summit settled a long-running dispute over the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and can now each develop theater missile defenses to tackle new threats.

The officials also said that the two leaders agreed to define which theater missile systems would not violate the ABM treaty but that the accord would permit deployment of all six missile-interceptor programs under development by the Pentagon.

But Republicans took issue with a provision "not to develop, test or deploy space-based [theater missile defense] interceptors," arguing it would place unacceptable constraints on possible technological breakthroughs.

Specifically, some Republicans lawmakers have been pushing a proposal to expand a missile monitoring system already used aboard Navy ships into a system creating a ballistic shield, a scaled-down version of President Reagan's "Star Wars" program, which would be prohibited under the agreement.

A Gingrich aide explained that the accord would limit development of such existing systems that are not covered by the ABM treaty, although it would not prevent the development of a ballistic shield system "from scratch."

Diplomats and politicians were setting standards that should be determined by engineers and scientists, he said.

"We cannot allow this deliberate weakening of our national defense, nor a dangerous reliance on hollow arms control agreements," the congressmen said in their statement.

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