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Bush accuses Gore camp of 'politicizing' missile defense

Says 'honest discussion' possible

May 30, 2000
Web posted at: 5:57 p.m. EDT (2157 GMT)

DENVER (CNN) -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush responded Tuesday to criticism by Defense Secretary William Cohen -- who had offered to brief the Republican White House aspirant on the issue of national missile defense -- by accusing the Gore campaign of using administration officials for political aims.

Cohen
Defense Secretary William Cohen  

Cohen said Monday that because Bush had appeared to reject his offer for a briefing by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the national missile defense system, "that's the end of it."

"This certainly was an effort on my part to say there are issues involved here in terms of the balance between offense and defense, and I think that it (a briefing) would be helpful, if Governor Bush wanted that opportunity, to take advantage of that. Since he's not, I think that's the end of it," Cohen said Monday.

Bush, speaking Tuesday in Denver, held the campaign of Democratic Vice President Al Gore responsible for Cohen's remarks, saying Gore was guilty of pressing Cohen into political service.

"I have one of the finest foreign policy teams ever assembled," he said. "I call upon my opponent not to allow members of the administration to politicize matters of defense."

"We can have an honest discussion," he added. "I found the comments to be political in nature."

The defense secretary, offering his thoughts on Bush's plan to reduce the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal while implementing a national ballistic missile defense system, said Monday that missile reductions below those agreed to by President Bill Clinton and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin could spark a renewed arms race.

"What happens, as you get down to lower numbers, your strategic commanders and their recommendations to the president tend to become less flexible," he said, referring to a theory called the "tyranny of small numbers."

"It could cause a future president to be in a position of having to use our systems or lose them under the threat of attack; it could cause a change in our targeting policies, and it could also compromise our ability to maintain a sufficient number of bombers in our force, which would compromise our conventional capability of using them during times of conflict, such as we did in Kosovo. So there are some intricacies involved."

"I think these need to be discussed," Cohen continued. "Apparently, Governor Bush would simply rely upon his own advisers, and that's fine. I made the offer, it's been rejected and, again, that's the end of it."

Bush
Gov. George W. Bush  

Cohen, himself a Republican, had extended the offer Sunday, on NBC's "Meet the Press."

After such a briefing, "I think, he and Vice President [Al] Gore will be in a better position to debate this in a way that is responsible and, I think, informed," Cohen told NBC.

Bush spokeswomen Mindy Tucker said Sunday that the governor might be willing to meet with the joint chiefs at a later time.

"Surely he's [Cohen's] not suggesting that Governor Bush's advisers," such as former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell, "who have led our defenses in the past, don't understand them," said Tucker.

"We are confident that the Joint Chiefs would welcome Governor Bush's approach, because it makes sure military planners are involved in determining the appropriate levels of security based on new guidance in a new security era," said Tucker.

Tucker then said Bush would be "happy" to attend briefings at the "appropriate time."

Typically, presidential candidates receive briefings from the administration after they are formally nominated at the political conventions.

Tucker added the Bush campaign hoped that those briefings would not be "politicized."

CNN's Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.

 
ELECTION 2000

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