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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Delays Missile Defense, Leaves Decision to Successor

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Bill Clinton, saying he lacks "absolute confidence" in existing technology, on Friday rejected the start of construction for a national missile defense system.

The decision will slow down development of the system to protect the United States against incoming ballistic missiles, avoid immediate confrontation with Russia over the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and leave major deployment decisions to Clinton’s successor.

Rapid deployment of the system is strongly supported by presidential candidate George W. Bush and opposed by Russia and some other countries.

In a speech at Georgetown University, Clinton announced his decision not to authorize the Pentagon to award contracts to begin building a new high-powered radar in the Aleutian Islands.

Future deployment decisions will be left to the next president.

"We should use this time to ensure that NMD [national missile defense], if deployed, would actually enhance our overall national security," Clinton said.

He said his decision also gives the United States time to work with Russia to overcome its opposition to the system, and to court the support of U.S. allies.

"The United States and Russia still have nuclear arsenals that can devastate each other, and this is still a period of transition in our relationship," he said.

"Therefore, for them, as well as for us, maintaining strategic stability increases trust and confidence on both sides; it reduces the risk of confrontation; it makes it possible to build an even better partnership, and an even safer world."

The 1972 ABM treaty with Russia prohibits a national defense against ballistic missiles, and the administration has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Moscow to amend the treaty to allow a limited system.

Clinton said it is still possible for the system to be operational by 2006 or 2007. It was initially targeted for completion in 2005.

Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee, has been noncommittal on whether there should be a national missile defense.