AP Diplomatic WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- In a historic break with Russia, the Bush administration Thursday withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a move effective in six months, The Associated Press has learned.
The U.S. ambassador to Moscow delivered formal notice of President Bush's decision to Russian officials at 4:30 a.m. EST, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The brief legal document invokes Atricle 15 of the 29-year-old treaty to give Russia six months' notice of Bush's intentions. The official said Bush has, in effect, pulled out of the treaty with the notification, though the United States cannot conduct missile tests barred by the treaty for six months.
At 9 a.m. EST, formal notice was given to Ukraine, Kazakstan and Belarus, former Soviet states that signed memoranda of understanding tying them to the pact under the Clinton administration. That action underscored Bush's position that the ABM is a Cold War relic, officials said.
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 says the recent terror threats underscore the need for a missile defense.
"Almost every state that actively sponsors terror is known to be seeking weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them at longer and longer ranges," Bush said this week at the Citadel, a military college in South Carolina.
Putin cautioned last winter that jettisoning the treaty could lead to the unraveling of three decades of arms control accords. China has warned a new arms race could ensue.
But according to Bush administration officials, Putin assured Bush during their October talks in Washington and Crawford, Texas, that U.S.-Russian relations would not suffer even if Bush pulled out of the treaty.
Bush tried to strike a deal with Putin that would allow the United States to move to a new phase of testing in the U.S. missile defense program. Putin had sought authority to sign off on U.S. missile tests, but the request was rejected, administration officials said.
The next scheduled step is the beginning of construction next spring of silos and a testing command center near Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Bush administration intends to cooperate with Russia at least to the extent of informing Moscow of steps being taken to advance the missile-shield program.
That's not likely to stop Russia from taking retaliatory steps. A senior Russian lawmaker predicted Russia will pull out of the Start I and Start II arms reduction treaties.
"We believe that offensive and defensive tools of nuclear deterrence must be linked," said Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of the Duma's international affairs committee, according to Interfax news agency.
Such a spiral of withdrawals would be dangerous -- and predictable, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"Unilateral withdrawal will likely lead to an action-reaction cycle in offensive and defensive technologies, including countermeasures," he said. "That kind of arms race would not make us more secure."
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said quitting the treaty could lead to a new arms race.
"About eight months ago they were taking about weaponizing space," Biden said Wednesday. "God help us when that moment comes."
Bush has condemned the treaty as an impediment to mounting a U.S. defense against missile attack now that the Cold War is over. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been deferring tests that might violate the treaty.
The treaty, negotiated during Cold War tensions between the United States and the old Soviet Union, prohibits the development, testing and deployment of strategic missile defense systems and components that are based in the air, at sea or in space.
It is based on the proposition that stripping a nuclear power of a tough missile defense would inhibit it from launching an attack because the retaliation would be deadly.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the private Arms Control Association, said Bush's action "is neither necessary nor is it prudent."
"This will likely hinder our efforts to build support for international efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction," Kimball said.
Spurgeon Keeny, a senior fellow at the National Academy of Science, said the treaty is regarded internationally as the foundation of strategic stability, and Bush's repudiation "is a tragic and scandalous development."
Keeny said Bush was taking unilateral action "in the face of strong opposition by our allies as well as potential adversaries."
"It will be a divisive force even as the United States is trying to build a broad coalition against terrorism," Keeny said.