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U.S. blasts China test, sees "no arms race in space"

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday that China’s recent anti-satellite missile test had endangered hundreds of satellites and left debris in orbit for a century, but reiterated its opposition to a new global treaty on space.

Christina Rocca, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said that a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space would not have banned China’s use of a ground-based missile to destroy a weather satellite on January 11.

“Despite the ASAT (anti-satellite) test, we continue to believe that there is no arms race in space and therefore no problem for arms control to solve,” Rocca said in a speech to the United Nations-sponsored forum in Geneva.

The 65-member forum has tried for years to launch global negotiations on treaties to ban production of nuclear bomb-making fissile material and prevent an arms race in outer space, known as PAROS.

The United States has asserted its right to develop weapons for use in outer space to protect its military and commercial satellites and has ruled out any negotiations to limit them, arguing that an existing 40-year-old treaty is adequate.

Rocca said that China’s test had “created hundreds of pieces of large orbital debris, the majority of which will stay in orbit for more than 100 years”, endangering satellites.

The test was a reminder that a small number of countries were exploring and acquiring the ability to “counter, attack, and defeat vital space systems, including those of the United States”, she said. “These capabilities include jamming satellite links or blinding satellite sensors ...” Rocca said.

The United States was committed to preserving the use of space for peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind, but would also work to protect its space assets, she said.

“Put simply, these assets are vital to our national security, including our economic interests, and must be defended,” Rocca said.

SPACE-BASED MISSILES

President George W. Bush last week sent Congress a fiscal 2008 budget seeking an initial $10 million for studies on what could be the first space-based interceptor missiles, despite opposition from China, Russia and many others.

If approved, it would be Bush’s first outlay for potential multibillion-dollar missile-defense systems in space other than for tracking and surveillance.

“Let me state it clearly and to the point: the president’s policy does not advocate, nor direct the development or deployment of weapons in space,” Rocca said.

China and Russia on Tuesday issued their latest “working paper” on space, updating one first presented five years ago.

The 18-page document, in a thinly veiled reference to the United States, singled out “one state” as arguing that the existing multilateral arms control regime on space was enough.

“Security in outer space must be guaranteed. This is a call of our time,” Russian envoy Valery Loshchinin said in a speech.

German ambassador Bernhard Brasack, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called for a gradual approach, using confidence-building measures to prevent an arms race in space.

“The recent test of an anti-satellite weapon should serve as a wake-up call ... and remind us of the urgency of the matter and our responsibility to act,” Brasack said in a speech.

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