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Published Feb. 16, 2008

The Bush administration is trying to convince foreign countries that the Pentagon's plan to shoot down a dying spy satellite is not a test of a program to kill their orbiting communications and intelligence capabilities.

The State Department has instructed U.S. diplomats around the world to inform their host governments that the operation, which could be conducted as early as next week, is aimed solely at protecting people that could be affected by about 1,000 pounds of toxic fuel on the bus-sized satellite now hurtling toward Earth.

"Our role is to reassure nations around the world as to the nature of what we are trying to do," spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday. "It's an attempt to try to protect populations on the ground."

In a cable sent to all U.S. embassies abroad, diplomats were told to draw a clear distinction between the upcoming attempt and last year's test by China of a missile specifically designed to take out satellites, which was criticized by the United States and other countries.

"This particular action is different than any actions that, for example, the Chinese may have taken in testing an antisatellite weapon," McCormack said.