Hillary Rodham Clinton called today for an immediate and permanent end to the use of a Puerto Rican island as a Navy target range.
The first lady's comments came after a presidential panel recommended that the Navy resume bombing on the island of Vieques but gradually close down the facility over five years.
"I am disappointed that this panel has recommended that the Navy resume its bombing on Vieques. Live ordnance training should not take place on a small, inhabited island," Clinton, who is planning to seek a U.S. Senate seat from New York, said in a statement. "There should be an immediate and permanent end to the bombing."
The first lady added, however, that "military readiness is critical to the security of the United States" and that she hopes the Navy will quickly find a replacement target range.
Sentiment against the Navy's use of Vieques has been growing in Puerto Rico since stray shells killed a civilian security guard in April. Protesters have occupied the firing range, forcing a temporary halt to bombing.
New York has a large Puerto Rican population, and Clinton had strained relations with some leaders of the community in August when she criticized her husband's offer of clemency for 16 imprisoned Puerto Rican nationalists.
The Navy contends that there is no facility that can easily substitute for Vieques, the only site near the East Coast where it is able to practice amphibious landings along with live-fire bombing from ships and planes.
About two-thirds of the 20-mile-long island is owned by the Navy and has been used for gunnery practice and mock beach assaults for more than 50 years. But 9,300 civilians also live on the island, and many of them feel that the bombing has stifled tourism, caused environmental damage and endangered lives.
In a day filled with campaign-like activities, Clinton also had kind words for former senator Bill Bradley, who is battling Vice President Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination. Polls show Bradley running stronger in New York than Gore.
Asked about Bradley, Clinton reiterated that she is "very committed" to Gore's candidacy. Nonetheless, she also said she has "a lot of respect and admiration for Senator Bradley."
"I'm very pleased that both of them have come forward with important ideas and positions for this campaign. . . . It's an important debate that I think the two of them will have in the weeks ahead," she said.