U.S. quits ABM treaty
By Manuel Perez-Rivas
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Thursday the United States has notified Russia that it intends to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, starting a six-month timetable for withdrawal and opening the way for the creation of an anti-missile defense system.
"Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty," Bush said in the White House Rose Garden. "I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks."
The announcement came after months of talks in which U.S. officials hoped to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new strategic agreement. But a breakthrough did not materialize, and Bush decided to go ahead with a unilateral withdrawal.
Bush said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin "have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security."
The President of the United States has executive authority to negotiate or withdraw the United States from treaties without seeking congressional approval. The Senate has authority only to ratify treaties.
In response to the White House announcement, Putin said both countries should move quickly to create a "new framework of our strategic relationship." But he called Bush's decision to abandon the treaty a "mistake."
Yet Putin, who went on national television in Russia to address the nation, said the U.S. move "presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation."
The ABM pact, negotiated with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, specifically forbids testing and deployment of a ballistic missile defense system. Bush believes such a system is critical for U.S. defense in the 21st century, and for months he has advocated scrapping the ABM treaty, calling it a relic from a much different time, a theme he repeated on Thursday.
"The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world," he said. "One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other."
Today, he said, both nations face different enemies. "Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction," Bush said.
Some question consequences
Arms control advocates have argued against abrogating the ABM treaty, saying amendments to allow the defense system tests should be negotiated with Moscow and the treaty left in place.
Congressional Democrats greeted the news with skepticism. Some called Bush's plan a misguided and poorly timed decision.
"We don't know what effect this will have yet. We do know that it poses some serious questions regarding our relationship with our allies, with Russia and with China, that we're going to have to consider very, very carefully," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Thursday.
Daschle said he was concerned withdrawal from the ABM treaty could "rupture relations with key countries around the world," and raises serious questions about future arms races involving other countries.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, admonished the White House on the Senate floor after Bush informed congressional leaders of his plans on Wednesday. Biden said 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."
Bush cites terrorism threat
The administration's position is just the opposite: The September 11 attacks demonstrate that if rogue nations which support terrorists develop long-range missiles, they would undoubtedly use them.
"We know that the terrorists and some of those who support them seek the ability to deliver death and destruction to our doorstep via missile," Bush said Thursday. "And we must have the freedom and the flexibility to develop effective defenses against those attacks."
Still, some Democrats questioned the urgency to pull out, saying the missile defense system could have been tested without breaching the ABM treaty. Daschle said pulling out was "a high price to pay for testing that was not required this early in the schedule for missile defenses."
But White House officials said missile defense testing would soon "bump" into the ABM treaty, and the president felt it was best to proceed with withdrawal.
"All along, the United States has been concerned with the fact that the timetable to develop a test to protect the country on missile defense was bumping into the ABM Treaty. The bump was about to take place," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Therefore, he said, "the president's judgment was that the most productive way to proceed to maintain good relations would be to proceed with clarity. And that clarity is to move beyond the treaty so that the United States will not be inhibited in any way of developing a robust testing system."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the treaty is outdated and "does not reflect the strategic realities of today."
"It did not and does not protect the American people from attack. It failed to recognize that the Soviet Union is gone and that Russia is, of course, not our enemy," he said.
Rumsfeld said he plans to meet with the Russian defense minister next week in Brussels to continue discussions on what framework should replace the longstanding treaty. Rumsfeld and other administration officials noted that Russia and the U.S. have agreed to reduce offensive strategic nuclear weapons, and relations between the two countries are good.
In Moscow on Thursday, Putin, for the first time publicly offered specifics in response to Bush's plan to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Putin said the reduction should be 1,500 to 2,200 warheads, a figure slightly lower than the one proposed by Bush, who set it at 1,700 to 2,200.
Administration seeks to quell concerns
"We still have exactly the same attitude and approach that the president and President Putin announced, and that is that we are looking forward, we're not looking back. That we do not consider them an enemy. And that the basis that we want to go forward is to find ways that we can deal with transparency and predictability with respect to the behavior of each country on offensive and defensive nuclear weapons," Rumsfeld said. "And we intend to do that."
Fleischer noted that Bush also consulted by telephone with the leaders of China, Britain, France, Germany and Japan. He added that leaders of other countries, including Spain, Italy, Hungary and Poland have expressed support for the move.
China's President Jiang Zemin, who has expressed perhaps the greatest concern over the U.S. withdrawal, told Bush he "looked forward to further high-level dialogue on the topic," Fleischer said.
The Chinese, who have a much smaller nuclear arsenal than Russia, are concerned that the U.S. national missile defense plan could be used to block their missiles, thereby upsetting the nuclear balance of power. Critics have said the move could push China to add more nuclear weapons to its stockpile, reigniting the arms race.
But Bush sought to assure Jiang when they met in Shanghai this fall that development of a national missile defense "is not a threat to China," Fleischer said. "China, which can launch many [missiles], could not be stopped."
Jiang, traveling Friday in Myanmar on an official visit, said the Chinese position remains: Beijing is opposed to the U.S. missile defense program and the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty. Jiang said there's a need for multilateral efforts to ensure world peace, according to Chinese media.
Bush administration officials have made efforts to ease worries in other nations as well. 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.
"I don't see the basis for an arms race in anything that we have done," Powell said Thursday. "I see a basis for increased strategic stability, and I look forward to working with my Russian colleagues, as does Secretary Rumsfeld, in pursuing that."
Bush said he looks forward to visiting Moscow next year to continue working with Putin to develop a new strategic relationship that will "last long beyond our individual administrations, providing a foundation for peace for years to come."
"The Cold War is long gone," he said. "Today we leave behind one of its last vestiges. But this is not a day for looking back. This is a day for looking forward with hope and anticipation of greater prosperity and peace for Russians, for Americans and for the entire world."
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