- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

Key Senate Democrats yesterday backed President Bush's proposal to scuttle the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, provided the United States does not act unilaterally.
"I was positively impressed by what I believe to be the president's understanding to keep Russia close," said Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, head of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.
Both Mr. Biden and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Bush would hold onto congressional support as long as he does not abrogate the treaty without first striking a deal with Moscow.
"That was the point which I surely emphasized, which is the importance of having a new structure in place before the old structure is dismantled, because of the possibilities of such negative aftereffects from tearing down the old without a new one being in place," said Mr. Levin.
The Democratic leaders' comments were far different from those by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. In a breach of established protocol, the South Dakota Democrat criticized Mr. Bush last week just before he departed on his second European trip.
"I think we are isolating ourselves, and in so isolating ourselves, I think we're minimizing ourselves," Mr. Daschle said in a breakfast interview with reporters and editors at USA Today. "I don't think we are taken as seriously today as we were a few years ago."
But he changed his view after Mr. Bush's trip, in which the president won a commitment from Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin negotiations on supplanting the ABM Treaty with a missile-defense shield and link it to bilateral cuts in nuclear stockpiles.
"It appears to have been successful," Mr. Daschle told The Washington Times on Tuesday of the Bush trip.
While in Genoa, Italy, for the Group of Eight summit, Mr. Bush on Sunday reached a breakthrough agreement with Mr. Putin, a former KGB official who had previously expressed concern over what he felt was U.S. unilateralism on missile defense.
After the two leaders' first meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Mr. Putin also threatened to beef up Russia's nuclear arsenal if the United States insisted on scuttling the ABM Treaty.
But Mr. Putin backed away from that threat Sunday after Mr. Bush reassured him that both sides would reduce their stockpiles and the United States does not view Russia as an adversary.
Still, Mr. Bush said later in Rome that his administration intended to pursue missile defense regardless of whether Russia agreed, adding that "time is of the essence."
Republicans say the Bush agreement with Mr. Putin makes Russia a partner in a post-Cold War world where the long-held notion of "mutually assured destruction" is obsolete.
"I think the president is exactly right," said Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who accompanied President Nixon to Moscow for the ABM Treaty signing ceremony in 1972.
"The treaty has outlived its purposes. A new framework should be put in place. The challenge to the Congress and the president is to move forward this year with our authorization bill, giving him the funds to explore the new options, to study an architecture that can protect America against a limited attack from missiles," said Mr. Warner.
Mr. Levin agreed. "I am hopeful that he will take the necessary time to try to get the changes that are necessary so that the testing can go forward without any limits," he said.
Mr. Bush, who returned late yesterday after a stop in Kosovo, welcomed the support from both sides.
"I also fully understand that foreign policy is best when conducted in a bipartisan fashion," the president said, adding that he was taking advice from key members of Congress "very seriously."
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice delivered precisely that message yesterday in Moscow. Embarking on a mission to reach a quick compromise with the Russians on missile defense, Miss Rice called on Russia to join in combating the new threat from so-called "rogue states," such as Iraq or North Korea.
"The position of the United States government concerning the ABM Treaty is very clear. We believe that it is a treaty that prevents us from carrying out research, development, testing and evaluation of defensive technologies that are so important in this era," she said in remarks broadcast on state television.
"It is absolutely critical, very important, that we replace the old basis of threat against one another, threat to annihilate one another, with a new basis of cooperative ways," she said after a meeting with Security Council head Vladimir Rushailo. "We should not want to hold on to that old system."
Miss Rice, who flew into Moscow from Ukraine yesterday, will hold talks today with Mr. Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
Mr. Ivanov on Tuesday became the most senior Russian official to suggest Moscow could approve changes to the ABM Treaty if a deal is struck during talks in Washington early next month between U.S. and Russian defense experts.
The negotiations will proceed at a quick pace in the run-up to an Aug. 13-14 visit to Moscow by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The United States earlier this month conducted the first successful test of the missile-interception system that it plans to turn into a national missile-defense shield. Mr. Bush hopes to begin deploying the first components of a missile-defense system as early as 2004.
The ABM Treaty between the United States and the now-defunct Soviet Union bars both nations from defending themselves against missile attacks. Mr. Bush has repeatedly said the treaty's logic that both sides would refrain from first strikes because they would be defenseless against counterstrikes ignores the fact that the United States and Russia are no longer enemies.

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