WASHINGTON — Administration lawyers agree that President Clinton could approve the first steps toward building a national missile defense without violating a 1972 arms control treaty, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Wednesday.
The lawyers interpret the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty as allowing preliminary construction work on a new X-band radar--a critical piece of a national missile defense--on Shemya Island, Alaska, up to the point where rails are laid for placement of the powerful missile-tracking radar on a concrete pad, Cohen said.
The rails are scheduled to be laid in 2002.
Clinton has not yet accepted his lawyers' analysis. If he does, it would make it easier for him to give the Pentagon the go-ahead this year to award contracts for groundbreaking on Shemya, while letting the next president decide on the more advanced construction work that would breach the treaty.
Cohen said he expected Clinton to make that decision by September.
"As far as a technical breach of the ABM treaty, his decision in August or September would not constitute that, in our judgment," Cohen said.