Bush's Missile-Defense Plan Inches Forward in Congress

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Senate panel has given a boost to U.S. plans to build a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic by authorizing a doubling of funds for the project.

The move, one of many steps necessary for approval of the funding, would increase the budget for the European system from $320 million to $712 million. Lawmakers also included money for construction of the two sites, which was withheld in last year's funding bill.

The authorization, included in a 2009 defense policy bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, matched a request by the Bush administration.

The U.S. missile-defense plans include building a radar site in the Czech Republic and installing 10 interceptors in Poland as part of a system that the United States says is intended to protect parts of Europe and the United States. The missile-defense plans in Europe have become one of the thorniest issues in U.S.-Russian relations. Russia opposes missile-defense sites so close to its borders, contending that they would undermine its nuclear deterrent.

The United States says the system is aimed at countering long-range missiles from the Middle East or Asia and has cited Iran as the most likely threat. The U.S. Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency said Thursday that the Democratic-controlled Senate panel's authorization endorsed that view.

"It just goes to show that there is certainly a bipartisan consensus in the Senate that there is a threat to Europe and the U.S. from Iran," agency spokesman Rick Lehner said.

The bill that the panel authorized includes restrictions on funding for construction of the system. It requires that the Polish and Czech parliaments approve the projects and that the U.S. Defense Department certify testing of the system before the funds can be used. The bill must now be approved by the entire Senate and reconciled with a version in the House of Representatives before going to Bush for approval.