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Clinton Delivers Speech on National Missile Defense

Aired September 1, 2000 - 11:21 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: President Clinton now about to get up from his chair. And we'll approach the podium at this time. Again, national missile defense is the topic there at Georgetown University. We expect the president to put the idea on hold for now and wait for a successor to make decisions about the continuation of the program or not.

Here's the president.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. When you gave us such a warm welcome and then you applauded some of Dean Galucci's (ph) early lines, I thought to myself, I'm glad he can get this sort of reception because I gave him a lot of thankless jobs to do in our administration where no one ever applauded.


And he did them brilliantly. And I'm delighted to see him here succeeding so well as the dean.

Provost Brown (ph), thank you for welcoming me here.

And I told them when I came in I was, sort of, glad Father O'Donovan (ph) wasn't here today because I've come so often, I know that at some point, if I keep doing this, he will tell me that he's going to send a bill to the U.S. Treasury for the Georgetown endowment.


I was thinking, when we came out here and Bob talked about the beginning of the school year, that it was 35 years ago when, as a sophomore, I was in charge of the freshmen orientation. So I thought I should come and help this year's orientation of freshmen get off to a good start.

I also was thinking, I confess, after your rousing welcome, that if I were still a candidate for public office I might get up and say hello and sit down and quit while I'm ahead.


For I came today to talk about a subject that is not fraught with applause lines, but one that is very, very important to your future: the defense of our nation.

At this moment of unprecedented peace and prosperity with no immediate threat to our security or our existence, with our democratic values ascendant and our alliances strong, with the great forces of our time -- globalization and the revolution in information technology -- so clearly beneficial to a society like ours with our diversity and our openness and our entrepreneurial spirit, at a time like this, it is tempting, but wrong, to believe there are no serious long-term challenges to our security.

The rapid spread of technology across increasingly porous borders raises the specter that more and more states, terrorists and criminal syndicates could gain access to chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons and to the means of delivering them, whether in small units deployed by terrorists within our midst or ballistic missiles capable of hurling those weapons halfway around the world.

Today, I want to discuss these threats with you, because you will live with them a lot longer than I will. Especially, I want to talk about the ballistic missile threat. It is real and growing and has given new urgency to the debate about national missile defenses, known in the popular jargon as NMD.

When I became president, I put our effort to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction at the very top of our national security agenda.

Since then, we have carried out a comprehensive strategy to reduce and secure nuclear arsenals, to strengthen the international regime against biological and chemical weapons and nuclear testing, and to stop the flow of dangerous technology to nations that might wish us harm.

At the same time, we have pursued new technologies that could strengthen our defenses against a possible attack, including a terrorist attack, here at home.

None of these elements of our national security strategy can be pursued in isolation. Each is important, and we have made progress in each area. For example, Russia and the United States already have destroyed about 25,000 nuclear weapons in the last decade. And we have agreed that in the START III Treaty we will go 80 percent below the levels of a decade ago.

In 1994, we persuaded Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belorus, three of the former Soviet Republics, to give up their nuclear weapons entirely.

We have worked with Russia and its neighbors to dispose of hundreds of tons of dangerous nuclear materials, to strengthen controls on illicit exports and to keep weapons scientists from selling their services to the highest bidder.

We extended the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty indefinitely. We were the very first nation to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an idea first embraced by Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower. Sixty nations now have ratified the test ban treaty. I believe the United States Senate made a serious error in failing to ratify it last year, and I hope it will do so next year.


We also negotiated and ratified the international convention to ban chemical weapons and strengthened the convention against biological weapons. We've used our export controls to deny terrorists and potential adversaries access to the materials and equipment needed to build these kinds of weapons. We've imposed sanctions on those who contribute to foreign chemical and biological weapons programs.

We've invested new equipment -- invested in new equipment and medical countermeasures to protect people from exposure. And we're working with state and local medical units all over our country to strengthen our preparedness in case of a chemical or biological terrorist attack, which many people believe is the most likely new security threat of the 21st century.

We have also acted to reduce the threat posed by states that have sought weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, while pursuing activities that are clearly hostile to our long-term interests.

For over a decade -- for almost a decade, excuse me, we have diverted about 90 percent of Iraq's oil revenues from the production of weapons to the purchase of food and medicine. This is an important statistic for those who believe that our sanctions are only a negative for the people, and particularly the children of Iraq.

In 1989, Iraq earned $15 billion from oil exports and spent $13 billion of that money on its military.

This year, Iraq is projected to earn $19 billion from its legal oil-for-food exports, but can spend none of those revenues on the military.

We worked to counter Iran efforts to develop nuclear weapons and missile technology, convincing China to provide no new assistance to Iran's nuclear program, and pressing Russia to strengthen its controls on the export of sensitive technologies.

In 1994, six years after the United States first learned that North Korea had a nuclear weapons program, we negotiated the agreement that, verifiably, has frozen its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. Now, in the context of the United States negotiations with the North, the diplomatic efforts by former Defense Secretary Bill Perry, and most lately the summit between the leaders between North and South Korea, North Korea has refrained from flight-testing a new missile that could pose a threat to America.

And we should be clear: North Korea's capability remains a serious issue and its intention remain unclear, but its missile testing moratorium is a good development worth pursuing. These diplomatic efforts to meet the threat of proliferation are backed by the strong and global reach of our armed forces. Today, the United States enjoys overwhelming military superiority over any potential adversary. For example, in 1985, we spent about as much on defense as Russia, China and North Korea combined. Today we spend nearly three times as much, nearly $300 billion a year. And our military technology, clearly, is well ahead of the rest of the world.

The principle of deterrence served us very well in the Cold War, and deterrence remains imperative. The threat of overwhelming retaliation deterred Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction during the Gulf War. Our forces in South Korea have deterred North Korean aggression for 47 years.

The question is: Can deterrence protect us against all those who might wish us harm in the future?

Can we make America even more secure? The effort to answer these questions is the impetus behind the search for NMD.

The issue is whether we can do more not to meet today's threat, but to meet tomorrow's threats to our security. For example, there is the possibility that a hostile state with nuclear weapons and long- range missiles may simply disintegrate, with command over missiles falling into unstable hands; or that in a moment of desperation, such a country might miscalculate, believing it could use nuclear weapons to intimidate us from defending our vital interests or from coming to the aid of our allies or others who were defenseless and clearly in need.

In the future, we cannot rule out that terrorist groups could gain the capability to strike us with nuclear weapons if they seized even temporary control of the state with an existing nuclear weapons establishment.

Now no one suggests that NMD would ever substitute for diplomacy or for deterrence, but such a system, if it worked properly, could give us an extra dimension of insurance in a world where proliferation has complicated the task of preserving the peace. Therefore, I believe we have an obligation to determine the feasibility, the effectiveness and the impact of a national missile defense on the overall security of the United States.

The system now under development is designed to work as follows: In the event of an attack, American satellites would detect the launch of missiles. Our radar would track the enemy warheads, and highly accurate, high-speed, ground-based interceptors would destroy them before they could reach their targets in the United States.

We have made substantial progress on a system that would be based in Alaska and that, when operational, could protect all 50 states from the near-term missile threats we face, those emanating from North Korea and the Middle East.

The system could be deployed sooner than any of the proposed alternatives. Since last fall, we've been conducting flight tests to see if this NMD system actually can reliably intercept a ballistic missile.

We've begun to show that the different parts of this system can work together. Our Defense Department has overcome daunting technical obstacles in a remarkably short period of time, and I'm proud of the work that Secretary Cohen, General Shelton and their teams have done.

One test proved that it is, in fact, possible to hit a bullet with a bullet.

Still, though the technology for NMD is promising, the system as a whole is not yet proven. After the initial tests succeeded, our two most recent tests failed, for different reasons, to achieve an intercept. Several more tests are planned. They will tell us whether NMD can work reliably under realistic conditions.

The critical elements of the program, such as the booster rocket for the missile interceptor, have yet to be tested. There are also questions to be resolved about the ability of the system to deal with countermeasures, in other words, measures by those firing the missiles to confuse the missile defense into thinking it is hitting a target when it is not.

There is a reasonable chance that all these challenges can be met in time, but I simply cannot conclude, with the information I have today, that we have enough confidence in the technology and the operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system to move forward to deployment.

Therefore, I have decided not to authorize deployment of a national missile defense at this time.

Instead, I have asked Secretary Cohen to continue a robust program of development and testing.

That effort still is at an early stage. Only three of the 19 planned intercept tests have been held so far. We need more tests against more challenging targets and more simulations before we can responsibly commit our nation's resources to deployment. We should use this time to ensure that NMD, if deployed, would actually enhance our overall national security. And I want to talk about that in a few moments.

I want you to know that I have reached this decision about not deploying the NMD after careful deliberation. My decision will not have a significant impact on the date the overall system could be deployed in the next administration if the next president decides to go forward.

The best judgment of the experts who have examined this question is that if we were to commit today to construct the system it most likely would be operational about 2006 or 2007. If the next president decides to move forward next year, the system still could be ready in the same time frame. In the meantime, we will continue to work with our allies and with Russia to strengthen their understanding and support for our efforts to meet the emerging ballistic missile threat, and to explore creative ways that we can cooperate to enhance their security against this threat as well.

An effective NMD could play an important part of our national security strategy, but it could not be the sum total of that strategy. It can never be the sum total of that strategy for dealing with nuclear and missile threats.

Moreover, ballistic missiles, armed with nuclear weapons, as I said earlier, do not represent the sum total of the threats we face. Those include chemical and biological weapons and a range of deadly technologies for deploying them. So it would be folly to base the defense of our nation solely on a strategy of waiting until missiles are in the air and then trying to shoot them down.

We must work with our allies and with Russia to prevent potential adversaries from ever threatening us with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction in the first place and to make sure they know the devastating consequences of doing so.

The elements of our strategy cannot be allowed to undermine one another. They must reinforce one another and contribute to our national defense in all its dimensions; that includes the profoundly important dimension of arms control.

Over the past 30 years, Republican and Democratic presidents alike have negotiated an array of arms control treaties with Russia. We and our allies have relied on these treaties to ensure strategic stability and predictability with Russia, to get on with the job of dismantling the legacy of the Cold War, and to further the transition from confrontation to cooperation with our former adversary in the most important arena: nuclear weapons.

A key part of the international security structure we have built with Russia, and, therefore, a key part of our national security, is the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed by President Nixon in 1972. The ABM Treaty limits anti-missile defenses according to a simple principle: Neither side should deploy defenses that would undermine the other side's nuclear deterrent, and thus tempt the other side to strike first in a crisis or to take countermeasures that would make both our countries less secure.

Strategic stability based on mutual deterrence is still important, despite the end of the Cold War. Why? Because the United States and Russia still have nuclear arsenals that can devastate each other, and this is still a period of transition in our relationships.

We have worked together in many ways: signed an agreement of cooperation between Russia and NATO, served with Russian troops in Bosnia and Kosovo. But while we are no longer adversaries, we are not yet real allies.

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.

Now, here's the issue: NMD if deployed would require us either to adjust the treaty or to withdraw from it, not because NMD poses a challenge to the strategic stability I just discussed, but because by its very words, NMD (sic) prohibits any national missile defense.

What we should want is to both explore the most effective defenses possible, not only for ourselves, but for all other law- abiding states and to maintain our strategic stability with Russia. Thus far, Russia has been reluctant to agree, fearing I think, frankly, that in some sense this system or its future -- some future incarnation of it could threaten the reliability of its deterrent and therefore strategic stability.

Nevertheless, at our summit in Moscow in June, President Putin and I did agree that the world has changed since the ABM Treaty was signed 28 years ago, and that the proliferation of missile technology has resulted in new threats that may require amending that treaty. And again I say, these threats are not threats to the United States alone. Russia agrees that there is an emerging missile threat. In fact, given its place on the map, it is particularly vulnerable to this emerging threat.

In time, I hope the United States can narrow our differences with Russia on this issue. The course I have chosen today gives the United States more time to pursue that and we will use it. President Putin and I have agreed to intensify our work on strategic defense while pursuing, in parallel, deeper arms reductions in START III.

He and I have instructed our experts to develop further cooperative initiatives in areas such as theater missile defense, early warning, and missile threat discussions for our meeting just next week in New York.

Apart from the Russians, another critical diplomatic consideration in the NMD decision is the view of our NATO allies. They have all made clear that they hope the United States will pursue strategic defense in a way that preserves, not abrogates, the ABM Treaty.

If we decide to proceed with NMD deployment we must have their support, because key components of NMD would be based on their territories.

The decision I have made also gives the United States time to answer our allies' questions, and consult further on the path ahead.

Finally, we must consider the impact of a decision to deploy on security in Asia. As the next president makes a deployment decision, he will need to avoid stimulating an already dangerous regional nuclear capability, from China to South Asia.

Now, let me be clear. No nation can ever have a veto over American security: even if the United States and Russia cannot reach agreement; even if we cannot secure the support of our allies at first; even if we conclude that the Chinese will respond to NMD by increasing their arsenal of nuclear weapons substantially, with a corollary inevitable impact in India and then in Pakistan.

The next president may, nevertheless, decide that our interests in security in the 21st century dictate that we go forward with deployment of NMD. But we can never afford to overlook the fact that the actions and reactions of others in this increasingly interdependent world do bear on our security.

Clearly, therefore, it would be far better to move forward in the context of the ABM Treaty and allied support. Our efforts to make that possible have not been completed.

For me, the bottom line on this decision is this: Because the emerging missile threat is real, we have an obligation to pursue a missile defense system that could enhance our security. We have made progress. But we should move -- we should not move forward until we have absolute confidence that the system will work, and until we have made every reasonable diplomatic effort to minimize the cost of deployment and maximize the benefit, as I said, not only to America's security, but to the security of law-abiding nations everywhere subject to the same threat.

I am convinced that America and the world will be better off if we explore the frontiers of strategic defenses while continuing to pursue arms control, to stand with our allies and to work with Russia and others to stop the spread of deadly weapons.

I strongly believe this is the best course for the United States and, therefore, the decision I have reached today is in the best security interests of the United States.

In short, we need to move forward with realism, with steadiness and with prudence, not dismissing the threat we face or assuming we can meet it while ignoring our overall strategic environment, including the interests and concerns of our allies, friends and other nations.

A national missile defense, if deployed, should be part of a larger strategy to preserve and enhance the peace, strength and security we now enjoy and to build an even safer world.

I have tried to maximize the ability of the next president to pursue that strategy.

In so doing, I have tried to maximize the chance that all you young students will live in a safer, more humane, more positively interdependent world. I hope I have done so. I believe I have.

Thank you very much.

HEMMER: President Clinton concluding remarks there at Georgetown University, admitting that the missile threat to the U.S. and other parts of the world is, quote, "very real and growing." He says, right now the system in development is not proven, this despite only three of 19 planned tests have been carried out to date.

He says more tests are planned, but "I cannot conclude," in his words, "to move forward with deployment."

Thus, a delay on this decision, leaving it in the hands of the next president who will occupy the White House come January.

Live to the White House now, David Ensor, listening and watching along with us -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, what was driving the president, obliging him to make this decision now, was a timetable for construction of a radar installation on a remote island off Alaska called Shemya Island. This a key part of any national missile defense that is based on land.

And because of the terrible weather conditions up there, bidding for contracts to break the ground there would have had to start in November. Construction would have had to go on in April in order for there to have been any chance of having a national missile defense system in place by 2005.

Now, that's the year when a blue ribbon panel told the president some time ago, there could be the threat of inter-continental ballistic missiles from places like North Korea, Iran, Iraq, that could hit the United States.

Now, you heard the president, in his speech today, saying that his decision not to go ahead with that groundbreaking now only delays things to about 2006, 2007. And that, in the view of experts that he has spoken to, if the next president goes ahead next year, that kind of target will still be possible to hit.

So there may be some disagreements among the experts about when the threat actually starts for the United States, whether it's 2005 or perhaps a year or two later. It sounds as if Mr. Clinton is hearing from his experts that the threat may be a little later in the timeline -- Bill.

HEMMER: Clarify this, David, the final comments he made. He says, the U.S. has an obligation to pursue this. However, he says we should pursue it as a nation, when we are more confident in the system. How does that confidence come about? does it come about by the testing that will no doubt continue in the short term?

ENSOR: Well, absolutely, Bill. There are something like 16 or 17 more tests, tests of the kill vehicle that has been designed to hit incoming missiles. And, as the president said, it's like a bullet hitting bullet, it is not easy technology. They have had three real tests of the system, one highly successful, two not successful so far.

And he just felt, on that technological record, he could not go ahead.

He also, as you know, mentioned a lot of arms control concerns. The Russians strongly opposed to this move, and our NATO allies have questions about it too, Bill.

HEMMER: David Ensor from the White House. David, thank you.

Now to Daryn for more -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And to help us understand a little bit more what this system is all about, let's bring in Jamie McIntyre, our Pentagon correspondent. Jamie today joining you on the phone.

Jamie, explain to us the part of the system that just does not work correctly.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have yet to put all of the pieces together, as the president said, in order to get a system that can reliably hit an incoming missile with another missile. Now they did it one time, but the next two tests were failures, as the president noted, and that simply did not give them enough confidence to go forward.

It will be interesting at this point to note which part of this is new, and what the president actually decided today, the next president will make the decision on deployment. That is something the Pentagon conceded back in July because the testing schedule won't be far enough along by now. But what was driving the president's decision was whether to go ahead with this building of the radar that David Ensor described in Shemya Island.

That was being driven by the fact that they still had the target date of 2005 to deploy this system. Now, you heard the president today say that the experts, and he is talking people at the Pentagon and others, now tell them that target date has slipped. The earliest they can build a system is 2006 or 2007.

If that is the case, then the question becomes, why go ahead and build this radar now, if the system is not going to be able to meet its deadline, and that was pretty obvious after the last missile failure, and the fact that pentagon had to postpone the next test, which they announced last month. The whole schedule was slipping.

The argument for going ahead with the radar was to, A, that you were going to need it anyway, no matter what kind of system you eventually ended up with; and, B, it might provide some measure of incentive for the Russians to negotiate the AMB treaty, an amendment to that treaty to allow those kind of defensive system.

The argument against going ahead with the radar was that it was going to very much upset the Russians and upset our allies in Europe, U.S. allies in Europe.

And faced with that decision, and that was really the decision President Clinton was making, whether to go ahead with the radar now or to put that off and concede that the schedule had in fact slipped, he decided this that this system is not working well enough to go ahead now and he deferred everything to his successor.

KAGAN: Jamie McIntyre, joining us by the phone -- by phone from Las Vegas. Jamie, thank you -- Bill.

HEMMER: Therein Jamie talked about the Russians. Certainly, there are sensitivities in a number of parts of the world regarding this issue.

Live to the State Department, Andrea Koppel watching this, and reaction to what we are hearing from the president at Georgetown University.

Andrea, what are we gathering?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, understandably, Bill, there has yet to be an official Russian reaction to the president's recent announcement, but you can expect that the reaction, not only from the Russians, but from the Chinese and our NATO allies will be very favorable to the president's announcement.

But having said that, this is really only a temporary reprieve and they will understand that the next administration is only five months away, President Clinton alluding to that several times in his speech. The Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has made clear, as recently as today, that he will go forward with deploying, not just a limited national missile defense, but a much larger one. And the Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, the vice president, has basically, up until now, said that he would consider very seriously deploying a limited national missile defense.

So the concerns that allies overseas, the Russians, the Chinese, have had up until now, waiting to hear from President Clinton, will be a repeated story again in a very, very short period of time -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Andrea. Andrea Koppel live there at the State Department in Washington. Andrea, thank you.

Want to talk with two folk who are an experts on this issue. First of all, Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser, he is with us now live in Washington.

Sir, good morning to you. Nice to see you.


HEMMER: Also with us on this discussion, Representative Kurt Weldon, Republican out of Pennsylvania, Armed Services Committee.

Sir, hello to you. Are you in Pittsburgh, I'm assuming, or...

REP. KURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I'm in Philadelphia.

HEMMER: I apologize. I see the skyline behind you. I should have recognized it myself.

First of all to Mr. Weldon, your reaction to what we're hearing from the president: You don't like the temporary delay. Tell us about it. WELDON: Well, 20 -- nine years ago, 26 young Americans came home in body bags because their country could not defend them against a low-complexity Scud missile that Saddam Hussein fired into their barracks.

In January of 1995, when the Russians misread a Norwegian rocket launch, they were within 15 minutes of attacking the U.S. with a long- range ICBM that we could not have defended against.

On August 31 of 1998, North Korea tested a three-stage missile that the CIA did not know they had which they now have verified could hit the U.S. We have no defense, nothing, against these kinds of threats. Russia does. Russia has the world's only operational ABM system around Moscow, protecting 80 percent of their population.

HEMMER: Sir, knowing the sensitivities, especially in Moscow, knowing that the tests have only resulted with minimal results, based on the first three we've had, is it not correct to put it on pause for now?

WELDON: No, absolutely not. First of all, let's look at why the Russians distrust us. It was in 1992 that Boris Yeltsin challenged George Bush to work together in missile defense. It was Clinton and Gore who ended that cooperation when they canceled the Rossa-Maydev (ph) talks. It was in 1996 that the Clinton administration tried to cancel the only joint Russian-American missile defense program called RAMOS. It was Carl Levin and myself who restored that program to regain the confidence of Russia.

And it was in 1997 that the administration negotiated two changes in the ABM treaty, misleading the Russians because they knew full well they couldn't get the Senate to ratify either.

So we have caused the Russians to distrust us, this administration. And it's only until we rebuild that confidence.

And in terms of the technology, what the president did today was decide to hold off the radar. If you want to do additional testing on the system, the radar at Shemya, it would help you achieve that goal, not hurt you. So making a decision to cancel the radar is not in the best interest of the program. I think it just brings out what the president has felt for the past eight years: He's totally opposed to missile defense.

HEMMER: All right, want to jump over to Brent Scowcroft quickly here in the interest of time.

Sir, you believe that President Clinton is making the right decision. Why?

SCOWCROFT: I believe he's making the right decision because we've gotten to the impasse we are now because of the president's insistence on no missile defense and the insistence of the Congress and other people like Congressman Weldon that we should go ahead as fast as possible. Consequently, we've ended up with a system that has real doubt that it can do the job. And I think that we need to have a serious look at it, whether it is the best system, whether another system would do a better job. And I think that the next president is going to have to be the one responsible for fielding a system, and we ought to make sure that it is the right decision and not have that decision made for us by a president who has only five month left.

HEMMER: And fully respecting your answer there, sir, but it is not a catch-22 involved here when you're not going to -- you're going to pause on some areas of this system? Aren't you, in effect, curtailing the development of it to see whether or not, ultimately, it is as effective as it could be some day?

SCOWCROFT: No, I don't think so. I don't think we're curtailing the kinds of things we need to do. First of all, there's a real question about whether the missile itself will work. There's a real question -- terminal intercept is the most difficult kind of ABM system and we should have been exploring all these years other things like boost-phase intercept. We ought to take the opportunity now because 2005 was an estimate which probably has slipped, given the fact that the North Koreans have not been proceeding the way they would have on their own defense. And I think it's time to take a careful look and make sure that what we were doing -- what we are doing is the most effective way to proceed.

HEMMER: Back to the congressman, then: Mr. Weldon, Brent Scowcroft is a man who worked in the White House under a Bush administration. If he's not on board this idea, does indeed he have a point about delaying and pausing it for now?

WELDON: Well, the only thing I -- and I respect Mr. Scowcroft in terms of the system. I've been suggesting that the administration should have been looking at boost-phase and actually space-based use of lasers all along, but they've opposed it. They've opposed us every step of the way. For seven years, they have fought a bipartisan group in Congress against any attempt to test anything. And so for the president to come forward today and say he really wants the best system is absolutely garbage.

And on the issue of proliferation, I brought along a couple of examples. This president gave a good talk today about controlling proliferation from Russia. These are guidance systems that Russia transferred to Iraq. We caught them transferring over 100 sets of these devices. Thirty-seven times the administration caught Russia and China violating arms control agreements, and 35 times they did nothing, including this case.

We wonder why there's a problem today? It's because the whole effort of arms control has been a dismal failure under this administration. They have not wanted to embarrass either Yeltsin or the presidency and the leadership of China, and as a result America is less secure today. That is the outrage. And for the president to say that he's been enforcing aggressive arms control is absolutely poppycock.

In fact, the Congress voted overwhelmingly, 96 senators and 396 House members, to force the president to impose sanctions on Russia because of technology they gave to Iran. And that's what the president should have been talking today, not a pie-in-the-sky speech for the first time in seven years about our national security.

HEMMER: Pretty tough, strong words. As you were talking, Brent Scowcroft was shaking his head in agreement.

Do you agree with everything that is spoken there, sir?

SCOWCROFT: See, I don't think Congressman Weldon and I are really on opposite sides of this thing. I think we both feel that the administration has proceeded in a way which has brought us to a very, very difficult situation and impasse. And what I'm saying is that I think we ought to rethink where we're going and whether it's the right way. And I think Congressman Weldon has a different view, and that is we're this far, we ought to go ahead. But I don't think we disagree fundamentally.

HEMMER: All right, gentlemen, appreciate your time. Interesting perspectives. Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser in Washington, and from the City of Brotherly Love, Kurt Weldon, Republican from Pennsylvania. Gentlemen, thanks.

If you're just joining us, it's two minutes past the hour, 12:00 noon Eastern time. President Clinton's in a speech at Georgetown University just a short time ago admitting that a missile threat in different parts of the world is indeed very real and growing. He says the system right now in development is not proven.

For the time being, he's put on delay establishing and developing a radar system on the far outreaches of the state of Alaska, deep inside the Pacific Ocean. That system has been put on delay. This despite three tests already carried out with mixed results on success, three of 19; 16 more tests to be carried out on this system.

And there are certainly political edges to this story. Let's talk to Bill Schneider, live in Washington with more on this.

And Governor Bush, you know -- we talked about this in Philadelphia, Bill, on many occasions -- that this is one of the cornerstones of his campaign right now. He believes the system should be put in place. And I guess the word we heard just a short time ago, he'll continue to pursue that. Political implications for sure.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Governor Bush has said directly in his acceptance speech in Philadelphia that he will deploy missile defenses rather than, in his words, defend outdated treaties, by which he means the antiballistic missile treaty with Russian and other countries.

President Clinton, today, by this speech, was unwilling to make a concession to Governor Bush on a key point. That is, we are ready to violate this treaty and set it aside. He would not do that today because the best legal advice -- and there's some disagreement about this -- is that to pursue the development of this system might very well violate the treaty by some legal interpretations, and we would be required to tell the Russians we no longer will abide by the treaty. The president was unwilling to do that, in part because it would be giving that concession to Governor Bush. HEMMER: Let's talk about the other side, the Democrat, Al Gore. Where is his position on this, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Right there with the president. He said he wants to continue to develop the missile defense system, and, indeed, as the president described it, national missile defense, but he does not argue -- go as far as Governor Bush in saying that we will deploy it and we will violate the ABM treaty with Russia.

Essentially, the president is saying that there are several different elements to American strategic defense. One is deterrence, which he continues to believe in; one is defense -- nuclear defense, essentially stopping bullets with bullets; and the other is continued diplomacy and arms control. The president's speech today said he's unwilling to abandon any of those tracks in order to pursue a security policy based entirely on defense.

HEMMER: Let's talk about the forecast for the next three months. You know it's Labor Day weekend. The election comes November 7. What happens with Governor Bush's position on this when he's on the campaign trail? Is it enhanced, is it something that's given more attention, not only by him, but by his running mate, Dick Cheney, as well?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's been put into the spotlight by the president's speech. There's going to be more focus on it than there has in the past. Americans have never been particularly interested in this issue because they don't feel anyone threatens us, though the president called attention very clearly today to the threat not primarily from Russians any longer, or even the Chinese, but from irresponsible, rogue nations -- Iraq, North Korea particular examples -- that may not be susceptible to the rules of deterrence.

He talked about terrorists taking control of some country who may not be deterred from using nuclear weapons because their beliefs are highly fanatical. So the president saying, you know, we have to look at this very carefully.

Bush, in his -- in the remainder of campaign, in the next few months, is going to have to argue and defend his position more clearly now because the line has been drawn between the administration's position; which is delay any decision, and Governor Bush's argument; which is, we should go ahead and deploy it and abandon the ABM treaty.

HEMMER: Bill Schneider, in Washington, Bill, thanks.

To Princeton, New Jersey, now, Frank Newport with the Gallup Poll, editor-in-chief there taking the pulse of the people on this issue.

Frank, what are we finding out?

FRANK NEWPORT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GALLUP POLL: Well, one implication of what we heard from Bill Clinton today was that he's leaving it to the next president, who is going to be, no doubt about it, Gore or Bush. The American public actually would probably favor George W. Bush's position. So the net net is this looks positive for the Bush campaign.

Here's why we say that. This is the question: Who could better handle national defense? that we've been tracking across the summer even after the Democratic convention. That top line is George Bush, and consistently he beats Al Gore in terms of being better able to handle these kinds of issues. So we think he could probably make that a part of his campaign.

Now all and all, the American public favors a missile defense system. This is in July when we asked the question, 53 percent to 36, as you can see, the public favors the system. It is a political issue, there's no question about that. When we ask the public, Republicans more likely to favor than Democrats. And, we should give you a history lesson here. We asked about the "Star Wars" program quite a while ago, back in 1986, same numbers then. Americans favored it, 52 percent to 40 percent way back then. So consistently the public says let's go ahead with it. And again I should emphasize Republicans more behind it than Democrats -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Frank, Frank Newport, live in Princeton, thank you.

That concludes our coverage of the president's speech, reaction to it, political and otherwise.



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