- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

True to the president's commitment, soon after he took office, the national security team of the Bush administration spent months in consultations, visits, summits and discussions with their Russian counterparts. The overriding goal has been the timely elimination of the strictures in the anachronistic Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which prevent the United States from developing and deploying a national missile defense (NMD) system.

President Bush has engaged Russian President Vladimir Putin in two summits. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have made separate visits to Russia to engage Russian leaders, including Mr. Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Marshal Igor Sergeyev, a former defense minister who is now a senior national security adviser to Mr. Putin. Secretary of State Colin Powell, of course, has held discussions with Russia's foreign minister. Just last week, John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, traveled to Moscow to prepare for yet another meeting, this one on Sept. 19, between Mr. Powell and his counterpart.

As it happened, while in Moscow, Mr. Bolton reportedly informed the increasingly recalcitrant Russians that the moment of decision will soon arrive. Indeed, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had testified before Congress in July that America's anti-missile testing activities will "inevitably bump up against treaty limitations and restrictions," an event, he said, that is "likely to occur in months, rather than years." (The ABM Treaty requires either or both of the signatories to give six months' notice before withdrawing.)

Moreover, in addition to scheduling some tests for late spring next year that U.S. officials believe would violate the ABM Treaty, the Bush administration also may seek to begin pouring concrete as early as April at Fort Greely in Alaska for a missile-defense testing site an action the Russians have said would definitely constitute a violation of the ABM Treaty. Thus, the Russians understood Mr. Bolton's remarks to mean that he was implying that the deadline would arrive when Mr. Putin visits Mr. Bush for yet another summit at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in November.

In fact, setting the November summit as the deadline, as this page has argued before, would be a splendid idea. Unfortunately, Mr. Bolton and other officials immediately backpedaled, denying that the Russians' understandable inferences. Mr. Bush subsequently announced that the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty "at a time convenient to America," although he insisted he had "no specific timetable in mind."

One hopes the president meant that he had "no specific timetable in mind" that he wished to make public. Indeed, issuing public ultimatums especially to a former superpower whose pride vastly exceeds its present status as a nuclear-armed-but-otherwise Third World nation that had tumbled into the dustbin of history would be ill-advised. But the ultimatum must be delivered in private. And soon. Certainly, it should be conveyed no later than Mr. Powell's Sept. 19 meeting with Mr. Ivanov.

The reason for the ultimatum is clear, as Miss Rice so eloquently explained following the first Bush-Putin summit in Slovenia. Responding to Tim Russert's June 17 direct question "Will move away from the ABM Treaty this year, if need be?" Miss Rice persuasively argued, "The timing really depends on what we need to do. And I think that the fact of the matter is, we don't think of this as trying to line in, line out the ABM Treaty to try to get just a little freedom here or a little freedom there for this or that test." Yet, given the tests scheduled for the spring and the Russians' view of pouring concrete at Fort Greely, that is precisely the condition the administration will face unless a meeting of minds is reached in November. Without issuing a public ultimatum, Mr. Powell must nonetheless clearly inform his counterpart on Sept. 19 that, absent a very wide-ranging agreement that would eliminate the ABM Treaty's strictures, the United States will exercise its sovereign right at the November summit to announce its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty after six months.


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