Breaking National News UPDATED AT 1:31 AM EST Monday, Feb. 23, 2004

Canada may host U.S. missiles

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Ottawa Canada is talking to Washington about the use of Canadian soil for stationing interceptor rocket launchers and radar stations as part of a continental ballistic missile defence program.

Defence Minister David Pratt yesterday said Canada is considering making some of its geography in the north available in lieu of a major cash contribution if the federal government decides to join the American program.

Until now, federal officials have said that Canadian participation in the U.S. program probably would not involve Canadian territory or a cash contribution.

But in two interviews yesterday, Mr. Pratt refused to rule out this possibility.

"We'll just have to wait and see" whether the discussions with the Americans could lead the basing of interceptor rocket launchers in Canada, he said on the CTV News program Question Period.

"We're going to have to see the technical data and what it produces by way of plans for the future," he added. "The Americans haven't talked money with us. But one of the things we have said is in-kind contributions are possible ..... possible use of Canadian territory for radar sites," he later told The Globe and Mail.

"It's subject to the discussions resulting in some sort of arrangement with the United States on missile defence. It's all very speculative," he said.

He stressed that negotiations with Washington are still in the early stages, as are U.S. plans for the deployment of various components of the missile defence system. Thus, it is too early to tell whether Canadian territory would actually be needed to make a full-scale system work, he said.

There are historic precedents, however, for this sort of co-operation in continental defence.

The United States was allowed to place nuclear-armed surface-to-air Bomarc missiles in northern Quebec and Ontario in the early 1960s to defend against a possible Soviet bomber attack on North America. The weapons were removed after a change of Canadian policy in 1969.

In the 1980s, the United States and Canada jointly built the North Warning System with radar sites and interceptor jet landing fields situated in the Canadian Arctic to protect against Soviet bombers. The United States put up most of the money and Canada provided the territory. The system is still maintained jointly by Canada and the United States, but it is not put into regular operation.

The Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney turned down a U.S. invitation to participate in an ambitious Star Wars defence against ballistic missiles because the plan envisioned putting weapons into space.

The Canadian government still opposes deploying weapons in space, Mr. Pratt said.

The current American proposal is limited to deployment of weapons on the ground or aboard naval ships, he said.

The first rudimentary pieces of the system are to go into operation later this year with the basing of interceptor rockets at Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Pentagon said recently it is considering putting some components of the system in an unspecified foreign country to improve the protection of the U.S. homeland "as well as for our allies and friends."

Washington says the system is needed to protect North America against an accidental launch of a Russian ballistic missile or a missile attack from North Korea.

Critics say this is an expensive way to defend against these remote possibilities.

The Pentagon plans to spend $53-billion (U.S.) on missile defence between now and the end of the decade.

Senior Canadian officials are expected to discuss the state of the negotiations Monday.