Cheney says US needs missile defense
( AP )- Borrowing a theme from the presidential contest, Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday that the possibility of a 3 a.m. emergency call to the White House is all the more reason for the next commander in chief to follow through on President Bush's plans for a national missile defense.
"It's plain to see that the world around us gives ample reason to continue working on missile defense," Cheney told the conservative Heritage Foundation at a dinner recognizing the 25th anniversary of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, a proposed network of rockets capable of shooting down incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Bush has set in motion a more modest version of Reagan's original plan.
"In the ongoing political campaign, there's been discussion recently about 3 a.m. phone calls," Cheney said. "We all hope that a commander in chief never has to pick up the line and be told that a ballistic missile is headed toward the United States. In such an instance, catastrophe would be minutes away."
It was a reference to a television ad by Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton portraying her as the leader who voters want on the phone if a crisis occurs in the middle of the night, "while your children are safe and asleep." Rival Barack Obama fired back with an ad of his own, suggesting that he - not she - would have superior judgment to deal with such a call.
The "red phone" ads have become a factor in the race for the Democratic nomination.
"In 1972, nine countries had ballistic missiles," Cheney said. "Today, it is at least 27. And that includes hostile regimes that oppress their own people, seek to intimidate and dominate their neighbors and actively support terrorist groups."
In addition to potential threats from North Korea, Cheney emphasized what he said was a growing threat from both Iran and Syria.
" Tehran continues to develop technologies that could lead to its building an ICBM capable of striking the United States, perhaps as soon as late in the next decade," Cheney said. "Given all that we do about the Iranian regime's hatred of America, its vow to destroy Israel and its ongoing efforts to develop the technology that could be used for a nuclear weapon, that is a danger every one of us must take seriously."
Cheney embarks Sunday on a trip to the Middle East, with stops in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Turkey.
As for a national missile defense system, the vice president said, "We're a lot further along than we would have been if Ronald Reagan hadn't set this in motion 25 years ago.
"President Reagan didn't live to see his vision fulfilled and he didn't expect to. But we're getting there," Cheney said.