- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

President Bush yesterday announced the United States' withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union, a pact he said prevents America from protecting itself from "terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks."
"Defending the American people is my highest priority as commander in chief, and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses," Mr. Bush said in a brief White House Rose Garden appearance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Mr. Bush referred to as "my friend," called the U.S. move "mistaken" on state-run Russian television yesterday but said it was not a threat to Russia.
Mr. Putin said his country has the capability to overcome missile defenses, such as the system Mr. Bush wants to develop to protect America from attack by a "rogue" state like Iraq or North Korea.
"Therefore, I fully believe that the decision taken by the president of the United States does not pose a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation," said Mr. Putin, who already had been notified of the decision in a telephone call from Mr. Bush last week.
Mr. Bush's announcement came after months of talks in which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who visited Moscow this week, failed to convince Russia to permit U.S. development of a missile-defense shield. The development of the shield, a priority for Mr. Bush, would have violated the treaty.
Administration officials said Mr. Putin had sought authority to approve or reject U.S. tests for a national missile-defense shield, but the request was rejected. Instead, the United States has agreed to inform Moscow of steps being taken to advance the missile-shield program.
Signed at the height of the Cold War by President Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, the ABM Treaty bans the two countries from deploying nationwide missile-defense systems.
The Bush administration now can begin missile-defense tests in mid-June. In addition, the Defense Department plans to start building a missile-defense command center at Fort Greely, Alaska, in late April or early May.
Mr. Bush notified Chinese President Jiang Zemin of the decision in a phone call yesterday, and had consulted earlier this week with leaders in Britain, France, Germany and Japan, said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
China is the most vocal critic of the U.S. withdrawal, predicting the move will spur another arms race. The Chinese government is modernizing its nuclear arsenal and fears a U.S. missile defense could be extended to cover its archrival Taiwan.
Mr. Jiang told the president that "he looked forward to further high-level dialogue" about China's concerns that a U.S. missile defense will spark an offensive arms race, Mr. Fleischer said.
"We've taken note of the relevant reports and express our concern," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said yesterday in Beijing. "China is not in favor of missile-defense systems. China worries about the negative impact."
Despite the U.S. withdrawal, Russia and America have moved forward on reducing nuclear stockpiles. During their four meetings in the United States, Slovenia, Italy and China Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush agreed to substantially trim their nations' arsenals.
Mr. Putin said yesterday he remains committed to reducing Russia's nuclear arsenal to between 1,500 and 2,200 warheads. The United States which has offered to reduce its stockpile to 1,700 will begin negotiating on the new Russian number soon, Mr. Powell said yesterday.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the agreement to reduce arsenals despite the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty reveals an interesting irony.
"During all the periods of arms control, the numbers of weapons soared. And here we are without an arms control agreement and they're declining by thousands. I think that's not a bad lesson," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said abandoning the treaty could harm relations with U.S. allies and with Russia and China. He called the withdrawal "a high price to pay for testing that's not required this early" for missile defense.
But Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the move.
"The president's courage moves the United States into the 21st century. He has done what must be done: moved another step forward toward the deployment of a missile-defense system."
Mr. Fleischer, spokesman for Mr. Bush, said it had become clear before Mr. Putin's visit to Washington last month that the United States and Russia would not be able to agree on the issue. He also said the United States gave up on the negotiations because amending the treaty "would have led to incessant wrangling" over U.S. missile-defense tests.
Still, Mr. Bush said that while the United States and Russia must agree to disagree on the ABM Treaty, the U.S. move will be beneficial to both nations.
"The Cold War is long gone. Today, we leave behind one of its last vestiges. We're moving to replace mutually assured destruction with mutual cooperation," the president said in the Rose Garden, flanked by Mr. Powell, Mr. Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
He noted that "one of the [treatys] signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists, and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other."
He called the mutually assured destruction theory a vestige of "a much different time, in a vastly different world."
"Today, as the events of September the 11th made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning, or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction."

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