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DATE=9/5/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=PENTAGON/MISSILE DEFENSE (L ONLY) NUMBER=2-266164 BYLINE=ALEX BELIDA DATELINE=PENTAGON CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: U-S Defense Department officials seem undisturbed by President Bill Clinton's announcement last Friday that he is leaving to his successor a decision on whether to deploy a controversial national missile defense system. V-O-A Correspondent Alex Belida reports from the Pentagon testing will go ahead. TEXT: Pentagon officials say the president's announcement came as no great surprise. They point to two key test failures this year and newly projected delays putting the eventual deployment date for any missile defense system six years or more into the future. Still, these officials say research, development and testing efforts will go ahead. Defense Secretary William Cohen vows such efforts will proceed, as he puts it, "aggressively." Even Mr. Clinton says he wants a continued program of testing and development that is, as he puts it, "robust." Questions remain on when the next test of a missile interceptor will take place. Sources at the Pentagon indicate no announcement on a new test date will be made before November's presidential elections. /// OPT /// That is because the proposed missile defense system, along with the overall readiness of America's armed forces, has become an important campaign issue. Republican candidate George W. Bush says he would deploy an effective system at the earliest possible date. He contends Mr. Clinton's decision to defer to his successor on whether to go ahead is another sign that the president and Vice President Al Gore have failed to strengthen U-S defenses. /// OPT /// Mr. Gore, the Democratic candidate in the coming election, says more time will allow for more testing. /// END OPT /// Published news reports have suggested diplomatic concerns played a critical role in Mr. Clinton's decision. Russia and China are among the nations that have spoken out strongly against the deployment of any missile defense system by the United States. According to the New York Times, a classified U-S intelligence report has warned deployment could prompt China to expand its overall nuclear missile arsenal. Russia could respond by placing multiple warheads on its missiles now carrying only one. But Pentagon officials note that in his speech last week, the President said no nation can ever have a veto over American security. The proposed system would involve some 100 missile interceptors based in Alaska coupled with sophisticated radar systems. It would be designed to protect the United States against possible missile attacks from so-called "rogue" states like Iran, Iraq or North Korea. (Signed) NEB/BEL/JP 05-Sep-2000 16:11 PM LOC (05-Sep-2000 2011 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .