Weinberger Says Administration Nearly Able to Decide SDI Deployment
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said Wednesday that the Reagan administration is ″close to being able″ to make a decision about deploying a ″Star Wars″ missile defense.
Although Weinberger gave no specific date in his testimony to a House subcommittee, his statements differed somewhat from those of Secretary of State George Shultz, who had told a Senate committee a day earlier that no deployment decision is likely soon.
The comments by Weinberger were the latest round in the administration’s debate over the future of the Strategic Defense Initiative, the formal name for Reagan’s four-year-old program to develop a high-technology shield against Soviet nuclear attack.
″We believe we are close to being able to recommend deployment decisions,″ Weinberger told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee during a hearing on the Pentagon budget.
″We think we are getting close to a position where a deployment decision can be made,″ he said.
Since its beginning, Star Wars has been a research program, looking at the possibility that lasers, beam weapons or other exotic technologies could be used to defend the nation against incoming missiles.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has denounced Star Wars as an acceleration of the superpower arms race. U.S. critics have said the goal is technologically impossible and will only waste money, along with violating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty which limits missile defenses.
President Reagan and his advisers have reached a consensus that a new interpretation of the treaty should be adopted which would allow extensive testing of Star Wars systems, The New York Times reported in its Thursday editions. But it said the president had not yet made a formal decision.
The newspaper said that according to officials familiar with Shultz’s thinking, he believes the United States would be justified in adopting the broader interpretation if it is done in consultation with Congress and with allies.
Star Wars supporters have urged the administration to announce a deployment plan before Reagan leaves office in two years, believing that would make it more difficult for a future president to dismantle the program.
″We’ve been able to make very remarkable progress″ in the SDI research, Weinberger said. ″If we could have the funding we want now, we could see a phased deployment far earlier than 2000,″ the earliest target date used by many supporters of the program.
When congressmen asked if Weinberger thought a decision by Reagan might lead to deployment by 1994, he answered, ″I would hope so.″
″We’re not ready yet for phased deployment, but we’re working hard to get it,″ he said, referring to a SDI system based on early technologies followed by more advanced defenses later.
Weinberger and Shultz met Tuesday at the White House with Reagan, and hours later Shultz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that ″there has been no decision made about deployment of any kind.″
Before any such decision could be made, said Shultz, a number of questions have to be answered. He said, ″I don’t have any sense that there is something in the parking lot you can decide about,″ echoing a comment last week by Adm. William Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Weinberger had a sharp exchange with Rep. Les AuCoin, D-Ore., who has been a consistent critic of Weinberger and administration arms control policies.
The dispute involved the successful test in Hawaii of a laser system as part of the SDI research. Weinberger, in answer to a statement last year by AuCoin that the test was in clear weather, disagreed and said it happened in bad weather. Weinberger later changed his statement in the subcommittee records to show he agreed with AuCoin that the test was in clear weather, AuCoin said.
″I don’t appreciate being misled,″ AuCoin said.
″I didn’t mislead you,″ Weinberger said, adding that he changed his story because ″I didn’t have accurate weather information.″
Later, AuCoin said, ″I’m upset by being misled,″ but Weinberger disagreed again, telling the legislator, ″that was not the case.″