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Vice President Dan Quayle says Soviet officials are "misreading the tea leaves" if they think the Bush administration is lessening its commitment to the Strategic Defense Initiative.

"They better go back and read what we said and what the SDI program is all about now," Quayle said Monday.The vice president created a stir last month when he said the Reagan administration had indulged in "political jargon" when it originally portrayed the SDI program - also known as "Star Wars" - as a leak-proof, impenetrable anti-missile shield.

The Soviets, in their latest strategic arms initiative, conditionally dropped their insistence that Americans abandon plans to deploy a space-based anti-missile system. But they reserved the right to abrogate a strategic arms agreement on short notice if the United States ever actually deployed such a system.

Quayle, in an interview with The Associated Press and other news organizations, said the concept of SDI had been scaled back in the last 12 months of the Reagan administration.

"What we're talking about is a realistic SDI system," said Quayle. "If (the Soviets) view a phased deployment and a redefinition of SDI as lessening of the commitment, they're misreading the tea leaves.

"It's showing you can do it from a political point of view, from a technological point of view and that President Bush is serious about an SDI system," said Quayle, a stalwart SDI supporter.

Quayle, who returned Friday from a four-nation tour of Asia, said the Bush administration may ask Congress to loosen restrictions on foreign aid to allow the Philippines to beef up internal security against communist insurgents.

Quayle was instrumental in securing a similar waiver for El Salvador after a visit to that strife-torn nation earlier this year.

Quayle said a waiver of the restriction would "help protect American lives as we have become increasing targets" in the Philippines. Two Americans working at a U.S. military base were ambushed and killed by Filipino terrorists shortly before Quayle's arrival last Tuesday.