- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

BUDAPEST — The United States persuaded NATO foreign ministers at a one-day meeting yesterday to drop from their closing communique all references to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, marking a major reversal by Americas European allies.
At the same meeting a year ago, the ministers described the treaty, which stands in the way of U.S. plans for a missile defense system, as "a cornerstone of strategic stability."
Despite the backdown, strong opposition to the missile defense system continued behind closed doors as some NATO members, each of whom has a veto on NATO decisions, sought to stymie the vastly more powerful United States.
"I am pleased that the acronym [ABM] didnt warrant attention this time," Secretary of State Colin Powell said after the meeting. "Theres a recognition that there is a threat out there."
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said support for the ABM was dropped, in part, because last year "there was a different American administration."
A senior U.S. official said that dropping support for the ABM Treaty in the NATO communique "is a sign the alliance is working to adapt … to our new thinking."
The Clinton administration had supported a more modest missile defense system and had tried to win approval for it from Russia, the only other party to the ABM Treaty besides the United States.
President Bush, however, has said the treaty is outmoded and needs to be scrapped, though he has not said he will do so unilaterally.
The ABM Treaty prevents either Russia or the United States from building anti-missile defenses that would be effective enough to make either country believe it could attack the other country and survive a reprisal.
The Bush administration says that approach is outdated and that missile defense is needed in the face of the growing threat of a missile attack by a rogue nation.
The United States is now offering to protect NATO allies with the shield and is reportedly ready to offer to share the technology with Russia in an effort to overcome its strong opposition.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told reporters yesterday that he was pleased that the Bush administration was consulting with allies on missile defense. He appeared to indicate it would be a long and drawn-out process that could delay any NATO decision.
He also said that defense against rogue attacks is provided by nuclear deterrence — the promise of being blasted in return.
He said multilateral agreements on arms control were important for allied security, a view distinctly at odds with the Bush administrations skepticism about such treaties and accords.
Mr. Powell told reporters that no plan was presented at the foreign ministers summit yesterday but that the United States was consulting with allies on missile defense and on various ways to protect America and its allies.
"I made clear to my colleagues this morning that President Bush sees this in terms of an overall strategic framework, dealing with offensive weapons, missile defense, proliferation, nonproliferation, counter proliferation, cooperative arrangements and agreements — a whole range of issues," Mr. Powell said.
"We really want to hear back from our allies," he added. "At the same time, I made clear to them that we know we have to move forward… . It will take us time to persuade everybody."
Sources who attended the meeting said some participants had questioned whether any rogue state currently had the ability to launch an attack with weapons of mass destruction on the United States or Europe.
Mr. Powell said this is a moot argument and the United States had to prepare for the threat immediately. "If you want to have the systems that can deal with such threats, you dont wait till its pointed at your heart," he said.
Besides dropping mention of the ABM Treaty from the annual communique, the document watered down significantly NATO backing for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the Bush administration and the Republican Party have opposed.
Last year, NATO said its members "remain committed to an early entry into force" of the CTBT, which requires that the United States and other states ratify the treaty.
But this year, given the strong Bush administration opposition to ratifying the treaty, NATO said only, "We urge all states to maintain existing moratoria on nuclear testing."
The Clinton administration signed the CTBT in an effort to win a worldwide ban on nuclear tests and introduced a voluntary moratorium on testing, which the Bush administration has left in place. However, the treaty was defeated in the Senate in 1999 amid strong concerns over the ability to verify compliance.
The year before, India and Pakistan set off nuclear blasts, adding their names to the nuclear powers list of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Israel is widely believed to also possess nuclear weapons.
The communique allowed for minor reductions in U.S. and other allied troop strength in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Mr. Powell had forecast Monday.
"It is not advisable at this time to consider major restructuring or reduction of [the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia] … but a moderate reduction in overall troop levels could be undertaken" the communique said.
A formal decision on Bosnia troop cuts will be made at a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels June 7 and 8.


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