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Denver Post
November 14, 2001
Capitol Hill conservatives do about-face on Russia
By Bill McAllister
Denver Post Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON - If the scene at the White House on Tuesday - a Republican president making an arms deal with the Russians on the basis of a handshake - was remarkable, then what is happening at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue was equally historic.

On Capitol Hill, some of the conservative lawmakers who were among the sharpest critics of the old Soviet Union now are among the biggest supporters of President Bush and his new arms-reduction agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I've felt all along we could potentially improve our relationships with Russia," said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo. "We do have a lot in common."

Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., said he, too, was hoping for an arms agreement with the Russians. "I haven't been concerned about the Russian threat at all," he said.

As the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have illustrated, it's the rogue nations that now pose the biggest threat to U.S. security, said Schaffer. Those comments reflect what the Congressional Quarterly, a respected Washington publication, calls "the new attitude" among conservatives on Capitol Hill.

Instead of warning about continuing confrontations with America's old adversary, conservatives are bragging about the benefits of cooperating with the Russians, especially in the war on terrorism.

Both Schaffer and Allard tied their new attitudes to a hope that, with the United States and Russia planning to cut their nuclear arsenals, Bush will press his case for a missile defense plan.

The president made clear at a joint press conference with Putin that he intends to continue to do that - even though he and the Russian leader are at odds over the effort. Bush promised he'll continue his Texas-style diplomacy when Putin visits his ranch this week.

Putin called the missile program "one of the very difficult issues" the two leaders still face.

"I think it's interesting to note that a new relationship based upon trust and cooperation is one that doesn't need endless hours of arms-control discussions," Bush later replied. "I looked the man in the eye, shook his hand. If we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I'll be glad to do that," he said.

Missile defense has long been a popular issue with the Colorado delegation. They see their state as becoming what Allard calls "the command and control center" for the new missile system.

While the testing of any new missile system will belong to the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Office, the ultimate deployment of any space-based aspect of the program likely will be managed by the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs. And, as Allard notes, there is also a chance that some of the aerospace contractors in Colorado may get to build some of the components to the system.

For Schaffer, the East Room meeting of Bush and Putin was especially noteworthy. On Aug. 23, he met with the Russian leader during a congressional trip to Ukraine and delivered a message from Bush.

"I let him know our president is standing firm on missile defense and wanted the support of the Russians," Schaffer said. Putin was "polite" but let him know he wasn't happy with the Bush plan.

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