Bush to quit pact that blocks missile-shield tests

Thursday, December 13, 2001

WASHINGTON -- President Bush told congressional leaders Wednesday he will withdraw from a treaty considered a cornerstone of arms control but one that hampers his quest for a defense against missile attack.

Several senior Senate Democrats criticized the move. Sen. Joseph R. Biden, D-Del., suggested there might be a legal case against acting without Congressional approval.

"But quite frankly, I don't think that's a winning argument ... he is in all probability able to pull out of the treaty," Biden said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the president informed him and three other congressional leaders of his decision during a breakfast meeting at the White House.

Daschle has urged Bush not to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Bush is expected to make the announcement today. It will effectively terminate unsuccessful efforts to work out a compromise with Russia in which the United States could go ahead with tests that senior U.S. officials acknowledge "bump up against" the treaty.

Administration officials hope the move will not harm joint efforts by the United States and Russia to make sharp cutbacks in their offensive nuclear arms. And they say Russia will be advised of steps taken to develop a missile shield in a spirit of cooperation.

Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the decision was "regrettable" because it undermined global strategic balances -- but he was not concerned about Russia's security.

"Russia can be unconcerned with its defense systems," said Kasyanov, who was in Brazil for a two-day visit. "Maybe other nations should be concerned if the United States chooses to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty."

Bush will invoke a clause in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that provides for withdrawal from the accord with six months' notice.

The next scheduled step is the beginning of construction next spring of silos and a testing command center near Fairbanks, Alaska.

The impact of a U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 treaty could be immense. It would give the Pentagon a green light to conduct tests outlawed by the treaty and make a sharper judgment on the kind of defense that might work.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin has cautioned that a unilateral U.S. withdrawal, which Bush has a legal right to do, could unravel the fabric of arms control woven over three decades of painstaking negotiations.

Vladimir Lukin, a former Russian ambassador to the United States, disagreed. He argued that while U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would not be seen as a strategic threat to Russia, it would deal a blow to the friendlier relations that were developing between the former enemies.

"Even after we have cooperated so closely and with such trust in the course of the anti-terrorist operation, the United States decides such questions from only one side," Lukin, who is now a lawmaker with a liberal faction of Russia's parliament, told NTV television.

"It is a bad sign for us, for our leadership and it is a bad sign for our public opinion, which has started slowly to gain more confidence in the United States," Lukin said.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the president has long felt the United States must "move beyond" the ABM.

"The president believes very strongly that this promotes peace. He thinks the worst signal to send to the Russian people is that we're locked in the Cold War," he said.

Daschle, meanwhile, complained that the Russians and the American media knew about the pending decision before members of Congress were informed. He said Bush told him reports of the decision in morning newspapers had been leaked by the Russians.

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