WASHINGTON – A senior Russian embassy official is threatening to use force if necessary to prevent the U.S. from deploying combat weapons in space.

Vladimir Yermakov, senior counselor at the Russian embassy in Washington, said his country is urging the U.S. through diplomatic channels against any plans for space militarization. But he told a space conference Russia would have to react, possibly with force, if the U.S. successfully put a “combat weapon” in space.

In an interview yesterday with the Financial Times, Yermakov emphasized that Russia’s priority was to solve the problem diplomatically, pointing out that Russia has voluntarily declared it will not be the first country to place weapons in space.

According to a New York Times report yesterday, the Bush administration was moving towards implementing a new space policy that would move the U.S. closer to placing offensive and defensive weapons in space.

Russia and China oppose any weaponization of space, partly out of concerns that it would lead to an extremely expensive post-Cold War arms race.

Force is “not a subject for discussion right now,” Yermakov said. “It depends on what happens, and why it happens, upon what agreements we have with the U.S. government, and what understandings we have with the U.S. government.”

“Our policy is not to create situations that would lead [to] confrontation,” he added. “If we don’t find such understandings with the U.S. government, and we find ourselves in a situation where we need to react, of course we will do it.”

The White House denied that President Bush was about to sign a new directive on space policy that would permit the weaponization of space.

“The U.S. has no intention to weaponize [space],” said a senior administration official. “The policy review was not initiated at the request of the Air Force or the Department of Defense, and the policy, while not yet finalized, would not represent a substantial shift in American policy.”

Any review of plans for a new high frontier would replace a 1996 policy implemented by the Clinton administration calling for a less militaristic approach to space. The 1967 treaty on outer space prevents countries from putting only weapons of mass destruction in space. Other countries are concerned that some of the weapons being considered by the U.S. could be considered new types of WMD.

One weapon the Air Force would like to develop is the Common Aero Vehicle, which would give the U.S. the ability to launch precision-guided rapid strikes at any point on the globe.

The internal U.S. debate over whether the Pentagon needs to put weapons in space gained momentum in 2001 following the conclusions of a commission that warned of the possibility of a “space Pearl Harbor” that could destroy U.S. commercial and military satellites.

“If the U.S. is to avoid a ‘space Pearl Harbor’, it needs to take seriously the possibility of an attack on U.S. space systems,” said the commission, which was chaired by Donald Rumsfeld before he became defense secretary.

The commission’s report concluded the U.S. needed “superior space capabilities” to prevent and defend against hostile acts “in and from space”.

China yesterday also reacted to the report, saying it is opposed to the militarization of space, and supports international legal documents ensuring its peaceful use.

“Space is our shared treasure and we have consistently maintained the need for the peaceful use of space so as to benefit all of mankind,” foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a regular briefing. “We are opposed to the militarization of outer space. We support preventive measures, including the adoption of international legal documents to guarantee the peaceful use of outer space,” he said.

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