- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush yesterday said the United States will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty "at a time convenient to America" but insisted there is no firm deadline for giving Russia a six-month warning that the U.S. will unilaterally withdraw.
"We don't have a date," Mr. Bush told reporters during a visit to Crawford Elementary School. "We will withdraw from the ABM Treaty on our timetable, at a time convenient to America."
By openly declaring his intention to withdraw, the president seemed to be adopting a more aggressive stance than his arms negotiator, John Bolton, who said Tuesday he would rather persuade the Russians to jointly scrap ABM than resort to a unilateral U.S. withdrawal.
Mr. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, expressed hope that such a joint agreement could be reached before Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Mr. Bush's Crawford ranch in November.
But yesterday, Mr. Bush signaled that he has no compunction about a unilateral U.S. withdrawal. But he also cautioned that the November summit would not necessarily be the cutoff point for the United States to give the six months notice of withdrawal prescribed by the ABM Treaty.
"I have no specific timetable in mind," he said. "I do know that the ABM Treaty hampers us from doing what we need to do. And secondly, I do know that Mr. Putin is aware of our desires to move beyond the ABM Treaty. And we will."
He added that the United States "would consult closely with our allies in Europe, as well as continue to consult closely with Mr. Putin."
The Bush administration has been pressing the Russians to abandon the treaty so that the United States can deploy a missile-defense shield that would otherwise violate the treaty. Signed by the United States and the now-defunct Soviet Union nearly three decades ago, the ABM Treaty prohibits both sides from building national defenses against incoming missiles.
The treaty was based on the premise that neither nation would launch a first strike because it would be unable to defend itself against retaliatory strikes. But with more countries gaining nuclear capabilities, Mr. Bush said the ABM Treaty exposes the United States and Russia to missile strikes from rogue nations.
"The treaty is a treaty that hampers our ability to keep the peace, to develop defensive weapons necessary to defend America against the true threats of the 21st century," he said.
Mr. Bush is expected to discuss the ABM Treaty and other defense issues this morning at a press conference in the Crawford Community Center near his 1,600-acre ranch. But he held what he called a "mini press conference" yesterday during a visit to the elementary school.
The president, who will fete Mexican President Vicente Fox at the White House next month at the administration's first state dinner, said he would not grant amnesty to illegal aliens from Mexico.
Instead, Mr. Bush suggested tougher border patrols. "I think we ought to have a good, honest dialogue about how we make sure our neighbors to the south do a better job of enforcing their own border," he said.
Before his "mini press conference," Mr. Bush entertained numerous questions from a group of 200 students at the elementary school, which has already resumed classes. In some cases, the youngsters were able to elicit more interesting answers than the reporters.
Sixth-grader Tyler Nystrom, for example, drew loud laughter when he asked: "Did you ever get mad at Al Gore during the election?"
"Not really," the president replied. "No, I never did. You know, he ran a good, hard race, and I felt like we ran a good, hard race, too, and never got mad at him. One of the things in politics you learn is you can't get mad at people."
Mr. Bush recalled the postelection recount wars in Florida as "a pretty pressure-packed time."
"We weren't sure what the outcome was," he told the students. "It took about 30-something days to figure out who the president was going to be."
Bush counselor Karen Hughes marveled at the insightfulness of questions by Tyler and other students.
"I was impressed he even remembered who Al Gore was," Mrs. Hughes said.
Another student asked whether it was hard to make decisions as president.
"Not really," Mr. Bush said. "If you know what you believe, decisions come pretty easy. If you're one of these types of people that are always trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing, decision-making can be difficult."
He added: "I know who I am, I know what I believe in, and I know where I want to lead the country. And most of the decisions come pretty easily for me, to be frank with you."

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