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GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States pledged on Friday to compensate countries if debris lands on their territory from a dying U.S. spy satellite that the Pentagon plans to shoot down.
Ambassador Christina Rocca said that if efforts fail to strike the satellite with a missile while it is still in space, it was expected to make an "uncontrolled re-entry into the earth's atmosphere on or about March 6".
The satellite is carrying more than 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of hydrazine fuel, and could release much of it as a toxic gas, according to Deputy U.S. National Security Adviser James Jeffrey.
"Whether the engagement succeeds or fails, the U.S. is prepared to offer assistance to governments to mitigate the consequences of any satellite debris impacts on their territory," Rocca told the Conference on Disarmament.
This was in keeping with a 1972 treaty on international liability for damage caused by space objects, which the United States has ratified, she said.
U.S. officials said on Thursday that President George W. Bush had decided to have the Navy shoot the 5,000-pound (2,270 kg) satellite with a modified tactical missile after security advisers suggested its re-entry could lead to a loss of life.
Rocca told the 65-member state forum that the timing of the strike would be chosen to "maximize the chance of hitting the fuel tank and to ensure that the resulting debris will re-enter quickly and thus not pose a danger to satellites and peaceful space operations".
Washington would seek to minimize the chances that any debris re-entering the atmosphere could hit a populated area.
Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Michael Winfrey