Bush notifies Russia he is scuttling landmark 1972 arms control treaty

Thursday, December 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a historic break with Russia, President Bush served formal notice Thursday that the United States is withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a move effective in six months.

``I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks,'' Bush said.

``Defending the American people is my highest priority as commander in chief and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses,'' Bush said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who got word from Bush last week that the United States was withdrawing, said in an address broadcast from Moscow, ``This step was not a surprise for us. However, we consider it a mistake.''

Bush emerged from a meeting with his National Security Council to make the announcement in the Rose Garden, with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice at his side.

``The Cold War is long gone,'' Bush said. ``Today we leave behind one of its last vestiges. But this is not a day for looking back. This is a day for looking forward with hope of greater prosperity and peace.

``We're moving to replace mutually assured destruction with mutual cooperation,'' Bush said.

Bush said he and his top advisers, before making the decision public, had gone over the same issues he had discussed with ``my friend President Vladimir Putin'' over several meetings this year.

``President Putin and I have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security,'' Bush said.

He notified Chinese President Jiang Zemin of the decision in a phone call Thursday and had already consulted earlier this week with leaders in Britain, France, Germany and Japan, said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. The spokesman declined to say how the leaders reacted to Bush's decision.

The U.S. ambassador to Moscow delivered formal notice of Bush's decision to Russian officials at 4:30 a.m. EST. Bush told Putin Friday to expect this, Fleischer said.

The brief legal document invokes Article 15 of the 29-year-old treaty to give Russia six months' notice of Bush's intentions. The official said Bush has, in effect, pulled out of the treaty with the notification, though the United States cannot conduct missile tests barred by the treaty for six months.

At 9 a.m. EST, formal notice was given to Ukraine, Kazakstan and Belarus, former Soviet states that signed memoranda of understanding tying them to the pact under the Clinton administration.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the decision was regrettable because it undermined global strategic balances _ but he was not concerned about Russia's security.

``Russia can be unconcerned with its defense systems,'' said Kasyanov, who was in Brazil for a two-day visit. ``Maybe other nations should be concerned if the United States chooses to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.''

Bush, who campaigned last year on building the kind of missile defense shield banned by the Cold War-era treaty with the old Soviet Union, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made his cause more urgent.

``Today, the events of Sept. 11 made all too clear the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other or other big powers in the world but from terrorist attacks who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction,'' Bush said.

The president emphasized his appreciation of Russia's help in the U.S.-led war on terrorism and he reiterated his pledge to reduce America's nuclear arsenal, a commitment Putin had sought and won when the two presidents met last month in Washington.

Putin cautioned last winter that jettisoning the treaty could lead to the unraveling of three decades of arms control accords. China has warned a new arms race could ensue.

But according to Bush administration officials, Putin assured Bush during their October talks in Washington and Crawford, Texas, that U.S.-Russian relations would not suffer even if Bush pulled out of the treaty.

Bush tried to strike a deal with Putin that would allow the United States to move to a new phase of testing in the U.S. missile defense program. Putin had sought authority to sign off on U.S. missile tests, but the request was rejected, administration officials said.

The next scheduled step is the beginning of construction next spring of silos and a testing command center near Fairbanks, Alaska.

The Bush administration intends to cooperate with Russia at least to the extent of informing Moscow of steps being taken to advance the missile-shield program.

That's not likely to stop Russia from taking retaliatory steps. A senior Russian lawmaker predicted Russia will pull out of the Start I and Start II arms reduction treaties.

Such a spiral of one-sided withdrawals ``will likely lead to an action-reaction cycle in offensive and defensive technologies, including countermeasures,'' said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. ``That kind of arms race would not make us more secure.''

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said it could rupture relations with U.S. allies and with Russia and China. He called withdrawing from the treat ``a high price to pay for testing that's not required this early'' for missile defense.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said quitting the treaty could lead to a new arms race.

``About eight months ago they were taking about weaponizing space,'' Biden said Wednesday. ``God help us when that moment comes.''

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been deferring tests that might violate the treaty that prohibits the development, testing and deployment of strategic missile defense systems and components that are based in the air, at sea or in space.

It is based on the proposition that stripping a nuclear power of a tough missile defense would inhibit it from launching an attack because the retaliation would be deadly.