WASHINGTON -- President Bush, anxious to deploy a missile shield long sought by Republicans, will soon give Russia notice that the United States is withdrawing from a landmark 1972 nuclear treaty, U.S. government officials said Tuesday. The pact bans missile defense systems.
He will announce the decision in the next several days, effectively invoking a clause in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that requires the United States and Russia to give six months' notice before abandoning the pact.
Initial White House plans called for announcing the decision Thursday, but officials cautioned that date could change. The four government officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
With the decision, Bush takes a huge step toward fulfilling a campaign pledge to develop and deploy an anti-missile system that he says will protect the United States and its allies, including Russia, from missiles fired by rogue nations.
Bush has said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks heightened the need for such a system.
Russia and many U.S. allies have warned Bush that withdrawing from the pact might trigger a nuclear arms race. Critics of the plan also question whether an effective system can be developed without enormous expense.
Conservative Republicans have urged Bush to scuttle the ABM, rejecting proposals to amend the pact or find loopholes allowing for tests.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told CNN he was opposed to pulling out of the pact. "It is not a good idea. It would be a real setback for defense and foreign policy to violate the ABM treaty." He added: "It's a slap in the face for many people who have committed years if not decades" to arms control.