Legislator to push for acceleration of missile defense program

House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said Tuesday that he intends to push for language during conference negotiations on the fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill that would accelerate the Pentagon's missile defense program.

Hunter's remarks come a week after North Korea's failed test of a Taepodong-2 long-range missile. Hunter could not provide details of his plan, and said he had not yet spoken with Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., on the issue.

However, he noted that his goal is to speed the military's ability to intercept incoming ballistic missiles, in light of the North Korea threat. "It is better at this point to have something than to have nothing," Hunter said.

Meanwhile, Hunter chided Democrats for their continued opposition to missile defense, a program started more than two decades ago and has grown into the most expensive system in the annual Pentagon budget. "It's time for the Democrats to stop fighting the ghost of Ronald Reagan," Hunter said.

Several House Democrats attempted to cut the fiscal 2007 budget for missile defense by $4.7 billion during floor debate in May on the defense authorization bill, amid concerns that the system is unproven and money could be spent better elsewhere. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., was defeated 301-124.

Had it succeeded, Hunter said, it would have devastated the program. House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, mentioned the Tierney amendment during a briefing with reporters Tuesday.

"As you may recall, Congressman Tierney had an amendment during the defense authorization bill to slash money for missile defense. It was rejected, but I think we -- and the rest of the world -- feel much safer if in fact we have a missile defense system up and operating," he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Tuesday he will push legislation to add North Korea to a nonproliferation act that outlines sanctions against foreign individuals who supply weapons technology to Iran and Syria.

"The time has come for the United States to treat transfers of these items to North Korea no less seriously than we already treat transfers of these items to Iran and Syria," Frist said in a statement. North Korea last week test-fired seven missiles, apparently including one that potentially could reach the United States.

The nonproliferation law, which was passed in 2000, originally applied only to Iran. It was expanded to include Syria in 2005. Under the measure, the president can impose sanctions on any foreign person who transfers goods and technologies to those countries when the transfer contributes to their ability to produce missiles, nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Foreign persons who acquire such items from Iran or Syria also are subject to sanctions.

Susan Davis contributed to this report.

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