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Clinton Predicts More Cuts in U.S., Russian Arsenals

Associated Press
Monday, November 20, 2000; Page A02

President Clinton said today it is "quite possible" that the United States and Russia will agree to deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals and that he would support a missile defense system if it could reliably block weapons from striking American soil.

Clinton put off a decision to build a missile shield this year, leaving it to his successor to explore whether the anti-missile system should be pursued. Moscow opposes the idea, pushing instead for more arms cuts.

Clinton said he deferred the decision to give the next president more time to talk with Russia, China, European allies and others "to plot out a future that would leave us safer than we are today."

In an interview with CNN at the end of a three-day visit to Vietnam, the president said he postponed the decision on a missile shield because he could not "justify wrecking" the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between Russia and the United States. To do that would have meant "gambling that somehow, someday, some way the technology will be there," he said. "We don't want to do that."

The Clinton administration says it would have to seek changes in the treaty or abandon the agreement to build an anti-missile system.

"If the technology existed which would give us high levels of confidence that one or two or five or 10 missiles could be stopped from coming into the country, it would be hard to justify not putting it up," the president said.

Clinton said the best way to proceed was to do more research and find a way to "bring these other countries into this."

A week ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia and the United States could drastically cut their nuclear arsenals far beyond existing proposals. Putin, who is pushing to reduce a large and inefficient military Russia can no longer afford, said the former Cold War opponents need not stop at the 1,500 warheads Russia has been advocating. He did not propose specific numbers.

Clinton said he did not want to compromise his successor's options. But he said, "I think it is quite possible that we could agree to go down to fewer missiles in our nuclear arsenal and theirs. I think that it's important that there also be fewer warheads."

He said the United States should not return to building "highly dangerous, richly armed" multiple warhead missiles.

"But what we have to do is to have a target design that we believe is adequate to protect the United States and that our missile component will serve," he said. "And if we do that, then we could agree with them to reduce the number of missiles." He said he had hoped to do that.

On other national security issues, Clinton said:

* He has not decided whether to go to North Korea before the end of his presidency, but "it's conceivable that there could still be a trip." He said the United States wants North Korea to end its long-range missile program and stop exporting missiles to other countries.

* The violence in the Middle East stands in the way of resuming peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. "They might as well be on the other side of the globe as long as all the shooting is going on." He said, "You don't have to end every single instance" of violence, but there has to be "a dramatic reduction" before the parties can talk.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company