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SENATE GIVES DEFENSE PLAN A GREEN LIGHT

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The Senate moved ahead Thursday with plans to build a nationwide anti-ballistic missile system, rejecting a Democratic attempt to cut funding for the program.

Supporters of the national defense system cited the rising missile threat from nations gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. Opponents argued that a new version of the Reagan-era "Star Wars" program would antagonize the Russians and rekindle the Cold War.By a 51-48 vote, the Senate defeated an effort by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to eliminate the $300 million the Senate Armed Services Committee added to the administration's $371 million request for long-range missile defense. The money is part of a bill authorizing $265 billion in funding for defense programs in fiscal 1996.

Dorgan said the Republican plan, which calls for the Pentagon to deploy a multiple-site anti-ballistic missile system by 2003, would eventually cost $40 billion. But the real threat from rogue states, he said, is not from intercontinental missiles.

Pointing to the Oklahoma City bombing, he said terrorist attacks are far more likely to come "from a rental truck, a suitcase, a glass vial, a single-engine airplane."

But Republicans said Dorgan was ignoring a growing missile threat to the nation. "Already North Korea is developing missiles that could attack the military installations in Alaska," said Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

Like the House bill that passed earlier, the Senate legislation outlining defense spending for 1996 would spend $3.77 billion for various anti-missile defense programs, $770 million more than President Clinton requested.

But opponents of the money for long-range missile defenses said it would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which restricted U.S. and Soviet missile interceptors and said each country could have only one anti-missile site. They warned that Russia would retaliate by refusing to follow through on START treaty obligations to dismantle some 6,000 nuclear warheads.

The Pentagon has said "it's going to ignite an arms race that could put us right back in the middle of a cold war," said Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., stressed that "nothing in this bill advocates or would require violation of the ABM treaty." But he added that the treaty "can change as circumstances change." The bill establishes a Senate select committee to conduct a one-year review of the treaty's validity.