- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Russia reacted mildly yesterday to word that the United States will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the Bush administration said its unilateral decision would not hurt strategic cooperation with Moscow.
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is usually not a leading voice on Russian foreign policy, said his country would "very much regret" if the United States pulled out of the 1972 ABM Treaty banning missile defenses.
"What worries us is strategic stability," he said during a visit to Brazil, carefully avoiding the use of provocative language.
Several senior administration officials, noting that Mr. Bush's announcement could come as early as today, played down fears that scrapping the 29-year-old pact between the former Cold War foes would trigger a new arms race, reducing global stability.
"The president believes very strongly that this promotes peace," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said of withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. "He thinks the worst signal to send to the Russian people is that we are locked in the Cold War."
At the State Department, a senior official said all diplomatic efforts led by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to reach an agreement with Russia on the accord's future had failed and the United States felt it was time to act.
"We worked very hard to achieve an agreement the president asked us to and he worked very hard himself," the official said.
"Originally, the idea was mutual withdrawal," he said. "The Russians wanted to have a part in that and said, 'How about staying in the ABM during a certain period?' We said, 'Fine, let's talk about it,' so we talked about it, but it doesn't seem to have worked out."
But, the official said, "it's not the end of the world for us to develop a missile-defense system, and certainly not the end of our productive and positive discussions" with Moscow.
Top Democratic lawmakers and other critics predicted strained relations with Russia if the United States pulls out of the accord, which bans missile- defense systems. Mr. Bush yesterday informed the congressional leadership of his decision to give Russia a required six-month's notice before abandoning the treaty.
Reports of imminent U.S. withdrawal from the treaty were first circulated Tuesday by the Russian Itar-Tass news agency, which quoted anonymous Russian sources as saying the United States would make the announcement this week.
Moscow, the reports said, had been informed of the decision by Mr. 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.
According to other reports, Mr. Bush himself called Mr. Putin after Mr. Powell's last attempt to work out an arrangement with the Russian leader failed.
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."
The president's decision, though hardly surprising and consistent with the administration's widely known intentions, raised anew the political temperature in Washington as lawmakers, experts and lobbyists scrambled to publicize their views.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who along with other congressional leaders met with Mr. Bush for breakfast, criticized the president for not consulting with Congress before making his decision.
"It does appear that the Russians knew about it prior to the time any of the leaders were told about it, or the members of Congress in general. And that isn't as it should be," Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said.
"I'm very concerned about the implications of pulling out of the ABM Treaty in part because I think it undermines the fragile coalition that we have with our allies," he added. "It's going to complicate as well our relations with Russia, with China and I think we've got to be very concerned about that."
Republicans praised Mr. Bush for moving forward with his long-stated intention to pursue missile defense.
"The ABM Treaty is a straitjacket irrelevant in the post-Cold War era," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican. "Does anyone doubt that if al Qaeda had access to nuclear weapons, they would have hesitated to use them against us?"
In a speech at The Citadel military academy in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, Mr. Bush 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.
Responding to speculation that Mr. Bush's decision is a defeat for Mr. Powell, who tried harder than any other of the president's advisers to reach an agreement with Moscow, the senior State Department official insisted that the entire national security team "is on the same page."
"When the president said, 'Let's see if we can work out an understanding,' obviously that's the secretary's diplomatic role," the official said. "When the president says, 'Let's see if we can build missile defense, that's the Defense Department's role."
Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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