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Bush to quit ABM treaty Thursday

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday will formally announce the United States is withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, senior administration officials told CNN Wednesday.

The White House at the same time will formally notify Russia of its intentions, starting the six-month timetable for withdrawal, officials said.

The pact, negotiated with the Soviet Union, specifically forbids testing and deploying a ballistic missile defense system.

Bush hoped Russia would have agreed to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new strategic framework, but the president decided to withdraw because such talks have not produced a breakthrough, White House aides said.

Arms control advocates argue against abrogating the ABM treaty, saying amendments to allow the tests should be negotiated with Moscow, leaving the treaty in place.

Congressional Democrats greeted the news with skepticism Wednesday, some calling Bush's plan a misguided and poorly timed decision.

"I think it undermines the fragile coalition that we have with our allies," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who was told of the decision in a breakfast meeting with Bush.

Russian officials fear that the U.S.'s withdrawal from the ABM treaty will lead to a new nuclear arms race. CNN's David Ensor reports (December 12)

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"It causes real concern ... as we look at the implications for future commitments in our defense strategy and what it may mean in other contexts."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, admonished the White House on the Senate floor Wednesday, saying the move would cause an arms buildup not just in Russia but also in Pakistan and India, increasing tensions in southern Asia.

Biden later called Bush's priorities "out of whack." He said America should be more worried about terrorists with weapons of mass destruction than countries with long-range ballistic missiles.

"September 11 indicated our country is vulnerable," Biden said. "The thing we remain the least vulnerable to is an ICBM attack from another nation."

The administration's position is just the opposite: The September 11 attacks demonstrate that if rogue nations that support terrorists develop long-range missiles, they would undoubtedly use them.

Biden questioned the "urgency to pull out," saying the Pentagon has told Congress it could test the missile defense system without breaching the ABM treaty.

"Is the announcement of our intent to withdraw from the ABM treaty a real action, or is it a White House Christmas present for the right wing who dislikes arms control under any circumstances," said Biden.

Daschle said although it is his understanding Bush has the authority to unilaterally pull out of the treaty, he is researching what "specific legal options Congress has" to stop it. He admitted such options may be limited.

Many Democrats believe pulling out of the ABM treaty unnecessarily antagonizes the Russians, because there is no indication a missile defense system would work.

They say it is especially dangerous to do at a time when the Russians and other nuclear-capable allies are key coalition members in the U.S. war against terrorism.

Daschle said there are limits to what Congress can do legislatively, but it still has the "power of the purse," suggesting it can hold up funds for missile defense or other White House programs.

"It is unfortunate that the Russians knew before the leaders did," Daschle said. "It's unfortunate that a matter of this import would not have been vetted more carefully or completely and with greater care for U.S. foreign policy than this was."

Two top advisers to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin -- Sergei Karaganov and former Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov -- told CNN Tuesday that Secretary of State Colin Powell told Russian President Vladimir Putin of Bush's intentions following meetings this week in Moscow.

Nikonov said Russia's response might be to put multiple warheads on its newest generation of strategic missiles. Karaganov said the Russians believe the results of abandoning the ABM treaty "will be negative, but will be your responsibility."

Both men said the decision could lead to a nuclear arms race in Asia. "It is bad for America. It is bad for the rest of the world. It is bad for Russia, but it's your decision," Nikonov said.

During stops this week in Berlin, London and Paris, Powell tried to quell European concerns about the consequences of scrapping the treaty, U.S. officials said.

In a speech Tuesday at the Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina, Bush told cadets that with tests going well on the missile defense program the ABM treaty has become an obstacle to peace.

"We must move beyond the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a treaty that was written in a different era, for a different enemy," he said.

"America and our allies must not be bound to the past. We must be able to build the defenses we need against the enemies of the 21st century."


• The White House

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