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NATO fails to embrace NMD

Solana, right, greets Hungarian PM Viktor Orban in Budapest as Robertson, left, and Powell look on
Solana, right, greets Hungarian PM Viktor Orban in Budapest as Robertson, left, and Powell look on  

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- NATO has dealt a blow to U.S. President George W. Bush's proposed $60 billion National Missile Defence programme.

A meeting of the organisation's foreign ministers on Tuesday stopped far short of endorsing the scheme and said it would require further "substantive consultations" with Washington.

The Associated Press said a draft statement to be issued later in the day by the North Atlantic Council does not portray the possibility of missile attack as a common threat faced by allies, as the Bush administration had hoped.

NATO's response came despite the presence at the meeting in Budapest of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Powell had said he had hoped to persuade skeptical allies to be more supportive of NMD.

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But, according to sources close to the process, France and Germany resisted stronger language sought by Powell.

The draft statement said NATO allies "welcome the consultations initiated by President Bush on the U.S. strategic review, including missile defence."

It added: "We intend to pursue these consultations vigorously, and welcome the United States' assurance that the views of allies will be taken into account as it considers its plans further."

In a minor victory, Powell was able to persuade NATO foreign ministers to omit from the joint statement any mention of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Last year's joint statement called the treaty "the cornerstone of strategic stability."

The statement was prepared for the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's top policy-making board, which is made up of foreign ministers of the 19 NATO nations.

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

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

In addition to presenting U.S. views on missile defence, Powell also sought to assure allies that the U.S. would not pull its peacekeeping forces out of the Balkans, despite comments by Defence 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 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. And he indicated that could be years from now.

• Secretary of State Colin L. Powell

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