- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

ROME — President Bush yesterday warned that he will build a missile defense shield even if Russia refuses to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, although he expressed optimism that Russian President Vladimir Putin will join him in scuttling the pact.
Mr. Putin, returning to Moscow after meeting with Mr. Bush in Genoa on Sunday, insisted to his fellow Russians that his surprise agreement to begin extensive arms negotiations with the UnitedStates was not a "breakthrough."
Mr. Bush, during a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, underlined his personal commitment to missile defense and against the 1972 pact.
"Make no mistake about it: I think it's important to move beyond the ABM Treaty," he said. "I would rather others come with us, but I feel so strongly and passionately on the subject about how to keep the peace in the 21st century that we'll move beyond it, if need be."
As if to make sure no one missed the point, the president later added: "Since I feel so strongly, if we can't reach an agreement, we're going to implement. It's the right thing to do."
Mr. Bush emphasized that he would give Mr. Putin "some time" to withdraw from the pact between the United States and the old Soviet Union. But he also stressed that the clock is ticking.
"I have told President Putin that time matters, that I want to reach an accord sooner, rather than later," the president said. "Time is of the essence."
Mr. Bush made his remarks just one day after reaching an unexpected agreement with Mr. Putin to begin negotiations on supplanting the ABM Treaty with a missile defense shield, which would be linked to bilateral cuts in nuclear stockpiles. If Mr. Putin does not withdraw by next year from the ABM Treaty, the treaty would be broken by testing of the missile defense shield.
The ABM Treaty forbids the United States and the Soviet Union from building nationwide defenses against a nuclear attack. The treaty was premised on the logic that neither side would launch a first strike if it could not defend itself against retaliatory strikes.
But with the Cold War over and a growing list of countries gaining nuclear capabilities, Mr. Bush has argued that ABM puts both America and Russia in danger of attack from a rogue nation. Mr. Putin, while initially balking at the White House plan, softened his opposition after meeting Mr. Bush.
"My friend has been quick to grasp the notion about changing the security arrangements in the world," the president said. "He was very forward-leaning, as they say in diplomatic nuanced circles.
"We signed an agreement," he added, referring to the pact to begin negotiations. "That should say something about the intentions and about how far we've progressed on this issue."
But Moscow yesterday was playing down the Bush-Putin agreement.
"There has been no principal breakthrough, indeed," Mr. Putin was quoted by Reuters news agency as telling top ministers in Moscow in a meeting about his summit with Mr. Bush.
"We confirmed our commitment to the 1972 ABM pact," the Russian leader said. "Nevertheless, there has been a considerable progress."
In addition, the agreement to discuss nuclear cuts and the renegotiation of the ABM Treaty together was painted in the Russian press yesterday as a retreat.
"In other words, Russia is ready to agree with U.S. missile defense plans in exchange for cuts in the U.S. missile potential," the influential business daily Vedomosti said.
The Kommersant daily newspaper, owned by Putin opponent and exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, had the headline "Russia gave up" on its front page.
Still, Mr. Bush has not yet derailed the eventual collision course between his missile defense system and the ABM Treaty. Despite the president's disdain for the treaty, the administration has stopped short of defying its restrictions.
"We do not want to be accused of violating this treaty," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters here yesterday. "And there will come a time and we don't know precisely when that is — but there will certainly come a time when a robust testing-and-evaluation program will come up against the limitations of the treaty."
"Let's be realistic. We are in office for hopefully several years, but presidents only have limited amounts of time to leave a legacy to their successors.
"And he feels very strongly that we've lost a lot of time because the testing-and-evaluation program has tried so hard to remain treaty-compliant that it really hasn't explored the full range of options," Miss Rice added. "That's the urgency."
She also pointed out that while Russia, as the successor state to one of the co-signatories of the ABM Treaty, has a "special" role in negotiating missile defense, the United States also is consulting with European allies and will bring in rivals such as China for talks.
The president emphasized that his "new strategic framework" with Mr. Putin extended beyond missile defense. It would also include cooperation on anti-terrorism measures and nuclear safety.
But there was little doubt that the most-pressing concern was defending the United States and Russia against missile attacks from rogue states, including some that carry multiple warheads.
"When we figure out the best way to address the true threats — which is the ability to intercept launches of twos or threes that could hold us hostage and affect all our foreign policies — then we will work on the development," Mr. Bush said. "We must do the research and development necessary research and development prohibited by the current treaty that codifies the old Cold War mentality of distrust."

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