- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

President Bush soon will give Russia a required six-month notice that the United States will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which bans missile-defense systems, administration officials said yesterday.
Mr. Bush vowed in a speech at The Citadel military academy in Charleston, S.C., to "move beyond" the accord to clear the way for robust testing, and administration officials said the president's announcement could come as early as the next few days.
"The time is coming when we will need to move beyond the ABM Treaty," a National Security Council spokesman, Sean McCormack, told reporters traveling with Mr. Bush. "The president will let you know. The time is near."
Reports of imminent U.S. withdrawal from the pact were first circulated yesterday by the Russian Itar-Tass news agency, which quoted anonymous Russian sources as saying the United States would make the announcement as early as tomorrow.
Moscow, the reports said, had been informed of the decision by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during his visit to the Russian capital Sunday. Mr. Powell said after meeting with President Vladimir Putin that the two sides "still have disagreements" on the treaty's future but would continue working on the issue.
Separately, Republican Senate sources told the Reuters news agency that Mr. Bush would give formal notice of abandoning the ABM Treaty in January.
Administration officials didn't deny those reports but cautioned against expectations of an official announcement tomorrow, saying it could happen in the next few days.
Mr. Bush pledged to scrap the accord during his election campaign last year, and his advisers repeatedly have called the treaty a relic of the Cold War. Russia has termed it "the cornerstone of strategic stability."
In his speech yesterday, the president said the treaty "was written in a different era, for a different enemy."
"America and our allies must not be bound to the past," he said. "We must be able to build the defenses we need against the enemies of the 21st century."
He argued that the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States have made the need for missile defense even more urgent and vigorous testing more important.
"Last week, we conducted another promising test of our missile-defense technology," Mr. Bush said. "For the good of peace, we are moving forward with an active program to determine what works and what does not work."
Russia, China and other countries, including U.S. allies, have warned that abandoning the ABM Treaty and building missile defenses would jeopardize the results of decades of arms control and trigger a new arms race. Critics of the plan also question its effectiveness and enormous cost.
But Mr. Putin has indicated that he is willing to work with Mr. Bush on reaching a broad agreement on a new strategic framework, which also would include reductions of both countries' nuclear stockpiles. The two leaders announced during Mr. Putin's visit to the United States last month that they would slash their arsenals by two-thirds over 10 years.
Unlike Washington, Moscow insists on a formal agreement in the form of a treaty. Such an accord is expected to be signed when Mr. Bush visits Russia next year.
According to some administration officials, Mr. Putin assured Mr. Bush during their November talks in Washington and in Crawford, Texas, that U.S.-Russia relations would not suffer even if Washington pulled out of the treaty.
In yesterday's speech, Mr. Bush called for enhanced cooperation with Moscow on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Russia has become an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism since September 11.
"Our two countries will expand efforts to provide peaceful employment for scientists who formerly worked in Soviet weapons facilities, and the United States will also work with Russia to build a facility to destroy tons of nerve agents," Mr. Bush said.

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