He backs missile-defense plan with support of ex-officials
WASHINGTON - Outlining what he called a 21st-century pledge to prevent the horrors of nuclear attack, George W. Bush said Tuesday that as president, he would cut the American nuclear arsenal as much as possible - with or without a similar commitment from the Russians.
"I will pursue the lowest possible number consistent with our national security," Mr. Bush said during a news conference in which he appeared with Republican foreign policy stalwarts Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee also revived memories of Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative plan, calling for an anti-missile shield that could protect America and its allies across the globe.
"Our missile defense must be designed to protect all 50 states and our friends and allies and deployed forces overseas, from missile attacks by rogue nations or accidental launches," Mr. Bush said.
Douglas Hattaway, a spokesman for Vice President Al Gore, said the Democratic candidate favors a more realistic approach. He said that includes cooperation with the Russians and support of the proposed Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which Mr. Bush opposes.
"Bush's agenda is irresponsible and shows that he lacks the depth of experience to keep America safe and secure," Mr. Hattaway said.
The Texas governor, who also conducted a closed-door pep rally with House Republicans on Tuesday, said America needs a new nuclear security policy for a new age.
Rather than the old standoff with a well-armed Soviet Union, the United States now faces threats from smaller countries and multinational terrorist groups who are trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
"It is time to leave the Cold War behind and defend against the new threats of the 21st century," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush spoke out the same week that a newly formed conservative organization began running $100,000 worth of television and print ads urging support of a missile defense system and criticizing the Clinton-Gore administration on the issue.
He also made his comments two weeks before President Clinton attends a U.S.-Russia arms summit.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart dismissed Mr. Bush's comments as election-year rhetoric.
"I think people will see this as someone who is trying to make political points, and I am not sure it will be taken very seriously," he said.
Mr. Bush repeatedly said that his plan to reduce the nuclear stockpile would not threaten national security.
"I would never do anything to put our nation at risk," Mr. Bush said. "I will work with the secretary of defense to come up with a level of weaponry consistent with the notion ... to keep peace through deterrence."
Scientists have long questioned whether it is technically possible to build an effective missile defense system, but Mr. Bush said: "The world has changed a lot since the '80s. Science is evolving, laser technology is evolving, there is a lot of inventiveness in our society."
Mr. Hattaway said that Mr. Gore prefers to continue working with the Russians to develop a "responsible and practical" defense system through the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
Mr. Bush did not provide a cost estimate for his proposed missile defense system but said it could be covered by his projected surplus of $4 trillion.
"I intend to reserve over $2 trillion of that for Social Security," Mr. Bush said. "[and] $1.3 trillion for tax cuts; the remainder would be available to meet priorities."
Mr. Kissinger, secretary of state for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and Mr. Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed the governor's plans.
The news conference also featured George Shultz, secretary of state for President Ronald Reagan; Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under Presidents Ford and George Bush; and Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense under Mr. Ford.
In another development, Mr. Bush's campaign disputed a Boston Globe story that said he skipped required drills during his National Guard service in the early 1970s.
"I served my full obligation with the Texas National Guard," Mr. Bush told reporters. "That's why I was honorably discharged."
Mr. Bush spent less than an hour with the House Republicans, who have been a political issue unto themselves since winning the 1994 congressional elections under the leadership of Newt Gingrich.
Both in 1996 and this year, Clinton administration officials have campaigned against what they called GOP "extremism." In their view, that ranges from the 1995 government shutdown to the 1998 impeachment of Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Bush has also questioned some congressional GOP actions, including a proposed tax plan that would balance the budget "on the backs of the poor."
But House Republicans struck a theme of unity after their chat with the candidate.
"He sounded more like me than I do," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Irving.
Members cited their common objectives of lower taxes, a better military, some privatization of Social Security and more local control of education.
"We're on the same team," said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano.
Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., said the governor and the House don't always see eye-to-eye but do plan to work shoulder-to-shoulder.
"The governor came in today actively embracing his congressional majority, voicing his desire to campaign side-by-side with all of us," Mr. Hayworth said.
Mr. Bush left the meeting through a side door. But he did make sure that camera people got shots of him walking beside Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., the likely opponent of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for the U.S. Senate seat from New York.
Mr. Hattaway said the Gore campaign looks forward to joint campaigning by Mr. Bush and the House Republicans.