- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

BRUSSELS — President Bush yesterday told world leaders gathered at a NATO summit that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed at the height of the Cold War must be "set aside" in order for the United States to move ahead with development of a missile defense shield.
The president strongly defended the shield, which has suffered several embarrassing test failures and fierce opposition from European leaders, and said his administration would not move ahead until the system was fully and reliably deployable.
"Before we can lay out a specific case … its necessary to set aside the ABM Treaty so we can fully explore all options available to the United States and our allies and friends. The ABM Treaty prevents full exploration of opportunity," Mr. Bush said in a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.
"And for those who suggest my administration will deploy a system that doesnt work are dead wrong. Of course, were not going to deploy a system that doesnt work. What good will that do? Well only deploy a system that does work in order to keep the peace. But we must have the flexibility and opportunity to explore all options," the president said.
In other NATO developments, Mr. Bush:
Assured U.S. allies that "we will move to reduce our offensive weapons to a level commensurate with keeping the peace."
Supported expansion of the 19-member organization, despite Russias opposition to adding countries near its borders.
Pledged not to unilaterally withdraw troops from the Balkans, as he had said during last years campaign.
Endorsed further political efforts to seek an end to strife in Macedonia, torn by ethnic fighting since February and now held together by a fragile truce.
NATO leaders yesterday demanded tougher action to halt a slide toward civil war in Macedonia.
Much of the day was spent discussing events in the Balkans. French President Jacques Chirac said the alliance must prepare for the possibility of a third military intervention there.
Urging NATO leaders not to allow a new cycle of warfare and instability to break out in the region, Mr. Chirac said: "We must not preclude any form of action needed to thwart such developments."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed. "We are very concerned about the situation in Macedonia," he said.
"Our history of engagement in that part of the world has taught us that it is better to make preparations soon and stabilize the situation, rather than to wait and let the situation deteriorate," Mr. Blair said.
However, Mr. Bush and other NATO leaders stressed that diplomatic intervention — not military action —was needed now to resolve the ethnic turmoil in Macedonia.
"We agreed that we must face down extremists in Macedonia and elsewhere who seek to use violence to redraw borders or subvert the democratic process," he said. "But the sentiment I heard here was that there is still a possibility for a political settlement, a good possibility, and that we must work to achieve that settlement."
Mr. Bush also reiterated his pledge not to pull more than 9,000 U.S. troops out of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, a reversal of his promise last year during the election campaign. Of the European troops still in the region, he said, "We came in together, and we will leave together."
Mr. Bush spent nearly four hours in closed-door meetings with NATO-member presidents and prime ministers. He made clear that he was seeking support not of a missile defense system, but merely exploration into the technology.
"Were asking our allies to think differently, and asking Russia to think differently, about the post-Cold War era. The ABM Treaty is a product of the Cold War era," Mr. Bush said in the press conference.
Russians and some Europeans say the ABM Treaty forbids construction, development and research into a shield, but many U.S. officials say that the United States is no longer bound by the pact, which it signed in 1972 with the now-defunct Soviet Union.
Some European leaders appear to be keeping an open mind. A senior Bush official, in fact, confirmed Italy, Hungary, Poland and Spain were ready to support a missile defense shield. The official described some leaders as "strongly, vocally for missile defense."
Still, important allies such as France and Germany have expressed concerns that a U.S. missile defense shield would spur another arms race and threaten their security.
The president, making his first appearance at a meeting of the 52-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said he was finding a new "receptivity" to the defense system, which would enable the United States to shoot down missiles fired by "rogue" states, such as Iraq or North Korea.
Mr. Bush, who has pledged to share the technology with U.S. allies, said he is succeeding in making his case.
"Im making good progress on this issue here in Europe. Theres some nervousness, and I understand that. But its beginning to be allayed when they hear the logic behind the rationale," he said. "I think people are coming our way."
Mr. Bush assured allies he would not act unilaterally.
"Unilateralists dont come around the table to listen to others and to share opinion. Unilateralists dont ask opinions of world leaders. I count on the advice of our friends and allies. Im willing to consult on issues.
"I hope the notion of a unilateral approach died in some peoples minds today here," the president said.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said dialogue was open, but there were "still important questions to be resolved."
"What the president asked for, and what the president got, was an open mind by the other allied countries to look at the risks and emerging threats that exist … and to deep and continued consultation about American thinking on the matter," Mr. Robertson said.
While Mr. Bush will not act alone on the defensive shield, he said, he would do so on offensive weapons.
"Ill also assure our allies and friends that we will move to reduce our offensive weapons to a level commensurate with keeping the peace, but one that is below where our levels are now," Mr. Bush said.
The president said he supports expansion of NATO when the full body meets in Prague next year. Russia opposes that plan, too, because the leading candidates are too close to its borders. Considered for new slots are the Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which had been part of the Soviet Union, as well as former Warsaw Pact members Romania and Bulgaria.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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