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US Missile Tests Raise Chinese And Russian Ire

Russia and China are flexing their military muscles by warning the US that it would trigger a new arms race and undermine global security if it funds research into an anti-ballistic missile shield, meanwhile at the UN the debate over who should keep an eye on Iraq goes on…and on.. John Howard reports.

The United States wants to deploy a hi-tech missile system, which would be able to shoot down ballistic rockets in flight. The move is to counter the perceived threat from countries like Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

But the move would breach the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) which bans deployment of nationwide missile defence systems, although it allows signatories to protect one named site.

Such a system "will trigger a new arms race and that is dangerous for the world," said recent Russian visitor and Chinese Defence Minister, Chi Haotian.

"If the US decides to breach the 1972 ABM treaty the international situation will deteriorate," said Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev.

Chi also accused Washington of seeking to extend the project to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

Such a development would "represent a serious interference in China's domestic affairs and inevitably meet with resistance from the Chinese people," Chi said.

Meanwhile, Russia has also vetoed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's nomination of Rolf Ekeus as head of the UN weapons inspection agency to Iraq. It is a setback for Mr Annan.

Acceptance of Mr Ekeus required unanimous agreement in the UN Security Council and the UN must now go back to the drawing board to find another candidate.

Mr Annan had proposed 25 names during recent consultations with Security Council members without reaching agreement on a single one.

France, China, Malaysia and Russia want to see the sanctions lifted on Iraq as soon as possible with the choice of chief weapons inspector vital to lifting the nine-year-old sanctions. However, the US is insisting the UN continue to take a tough line.

Mr Annan had asked Ekeus to return to his former job as chief weapons inspector, a position he held from 1991 to 1997. But he is being desribed by Iraq as "old wine in a new bottle."

Inspectors have not set foot in Iraq since December 1998 when they were evacuated on the eve of US and UK bombing.

There are currently deep divisions within the Security Council members and a certain amount of exasperation over how to deal with Iraq. But if weapons inspectors were to return to Iraq, Saddam Hussein, who has a record of picking fights with inspectors, is likely to return to his old tactics of attacking them to draw attention to the sanctions.

Given the divisions within the Security Council over Iraq the status quo - no inspectors - may be the only possible policy. With the US in election year Washington is hardly likely to want to be drawn into another Iraq crisis.

Is there a New Zealander out there - perhaps Ed Hillary - who might want the job?

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