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NATO open to more talks on U.S. missile plan

NATO ministers at the opening session of the North Atlantic Council meeting in Budapest, Hungary  

BUDAPEST, Hungary (CNN) -- NATO's top policy-making body stopped short Tuesday of endorsing U.S. President George W. Bush's National Missile Defense program, but the organization's secretary-general said "common ground" exists for further discussions.

The North Atlantic Council, meeting in Budapest, Hungary, offered to "continue substantive consultations" with the White House about Bush's $60 billion plan.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell came to Budapest for the meeting, hoping to persuade skeptical allies to support the National Missile Defense plan. But sources close to the process said that France and Germany resisted language, sought by Powell for the meeting's communique, that would portray the possibility of a missile attack as a threat faced by all allies.

Instead, the allies cited only a "potential threat" of attack by nations - those considered "rogue states" by the United States -- that have developed nuclear weapons.


George Robertson: Powell did not pressure us

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Colin Powell: There is a clear threat to deal with

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National Missile Defense Missile defense: Europe's view

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NATO Secretary-General George Robertson told reporters after the meeting that "missile defense is not a new subject for the ministers of the alliance," but Bush's plans represent "a whole new area of thinking."

"Powell did not come with any set of proposals" for NATO ministers to reject or accept, he said. "He did as President Bush promised to me ... to emphasize that the U.S. wishes to share their thinking on missile defense before any decision is taken," he said. "This promise was warmly welcomed by all allies."

Robertson said the NATO ministers were pleased with Bush's "commitment to the protection of the allies" and his "desire ... to have huge reductions in nuclear arsenals on both sides of the equation."

Robertson also noted Russian President Vladimir Putin's call last year for a theater-based missile defense system in Europe, saying that such ideas boded well for the future of allied defense.

"There is common ground," he said.

NATO wants security, not arms race

The council, made up of foreign ministers from the 19 NATO nations, said in a statement that the allies "welcome the consultations initiated by President Bush on the U.S. strategic review, including missile defense."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said it was important that no decisions be made on the missile defense issue until further consultations have occurred.

A U.S. missile defense plan "must add to our security and stability. It must not lead to another arms race," Fischer said.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, center, stands with, from left, Belgian Ambassador to NATO Thierry de Gruben, foreign ministers Halldor Asgrimsson of Iceland, Lamberto Dini of Italy and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell  

In addition to presenting U.S. views on missile defense, Powell also sought to assure allies that the U.S. would not pull its peacekeeping forces out of the Balkans, despite comments by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggesting the U.S. role in Bosnia was near an end.

At an opening session, NATO foreign ministers also voiced concern about violence in Macedonia and indicated support for only modest cuts in the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, said a NATO official.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the alliance is ready to support only "trimming and minor adjustment" in the Bosnian force.

Other NATO sources have said they expect an announcement of a cut of 10 percent to 15 percent in the peacekeeping force of 21,000, of which 3,300 are Americans.

Powell said Rumsfeld's comments may have been misinterpreted. The United States and its allies went into the Balkans together "and we'll come out together," Powell said. He indicated that could be years from now.

• Secretary of State Colin L. Powell

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