Ihe Pentagon's assessment of the program to develop a National Missile Defense (NMD) system has been delayed by "several weeks", and is now expected in early September.

This will delay Secretary of Defense William Cohen's recommendation to President Clinton on when and if to proceed with deployment of NMD. The Secretary of Defense had been expected to make his final recommendation on a proposed national missile defense (NMD) system to President Clinton during the Pentagon’s Deployment Readiness Review in early August.

A statement issued August 7, however, quoted Secretary Cohen as saying "components of the Department of Defense are currently completing their assessment of the program to develop a National Missile Defense system. A number of difficult issues remain to be resolved before they can report to me."

"I will make no recommendation about the future of the NMD program until I have analyzed their findings." He continued that "there is no immediate or artificial deadline for a recommendation to the President. NMD is an important and complex program. My goal is to make the best possible recommendation based on the President's four criteria, not the earliest possible recommendation. The president fully supports this approach."

Two key technical issues appear to be holding up the assessment. These include whether the rocket booster to be used can be ready for full-scale production by 2003, and whether the Pentagon should proceed as scheduled with the next interceptor flight test this fall. The last two flight tests failed.

The Clinton administration favors deploying a system of ground-based radars and interceptors by 2005. To meet the deadline, construction contracts for an advanced radar station on Alaska's Shemya Island must be awarded before the end of the year. A recommendation by Cohen in early September would still give Clinton time to decide whether to begin construction in Shemya, before leaving office.