- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The United States has begun a new round of consultations on missile defense with its NATO allies in search of ways for those countries to "participate and benefit" from the program, U.S. officials said yesterday.

For the first time since Washington withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty last month, two teams of Pentagon and State Department officials are holding missile-defense talks in 12 European capitals.

Visits to Canada, Japan and South Korea are planned for later in the summer, a State Department official said.

"We are sharing information on the threats that exist for all of us and are looking for ways in which the allies can benefit and participate in our program," he said.

This is the first time that such talks deal more specifically with Washington's plans for a missile shield, the official said. In the past, talks have focused on the broader issue of the need for missile defense.

"The absence of the ABM Treaty makes it easier to talk about the program," the State Department official said, although he acknowledged that some allies are "more enthusiastic" about it than others.

"They all understand the threat and no one is objecting to the idea," he said.

The European reaction since the Bush administration committed to missile defense immediately after taking office last year has been overwhelmingly negative. Washington's intentions are seen as part of what many Europeans consider unilateral policies.

They argue that a U.S. pullout from the 1972 ABM Treaty, which banned missile defenses, could spark new confrontation with Russia and lead to another Cold War-style arms race.

But since Moscow surprisingly went along with the U.S. withdrawal, which was announced in early December and took effect six months later, the NATO allies have accepted the notion that nothing would change President Bush's plans.

Some of them have expressed interest in finding out more about how the future system can protect their own territory.

One of the U.S. teams touring Europe is visiting London, Oslo, Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague and NATO's headquarters in Brussels. The other's stops include Paris, Madrid, Rome, Warsaw, Budapest and Ankara in Turkey.

"Clearly the administration is feverishly at work trying to get the Europeans to buy into the concept of robust missile defense, and not only potential contractors, but also governments," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

"But this energetic effort will make it difficult for the administration to dissuade countries like India that are also interested in missile defenses," he said.

Israel's potential sale of a modern Arrow Weapon System to India requires U.S. approval, because the system was developed in partnership with the United States and is designed to help Israel defend itself against short- and medium-range missiles.

"Introduction of weapons systems have to be made with a larger perspective than this week's events or last week's events," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters yesterday.

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