Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

U.S. nearing ABM Treaty withdrawal
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday said the "time is near" to move beyond the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and there were signs President George W. Bush would soon formally announce U.S. withdrawal plans.

"We will need to move beyond the ABM treaty. That time is near and the president will let you know when that time has arrived," National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack told Reuters in Charleston, South Carolina, where Bush was speaking at The Citadel military school.

During the speech, Bush reiterated that the United States "must move beyond the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty," which prohibits the kind of national missile defense system the president is determined to develop.

He stopped short of announcing a formal U.S. intent to withdraw -- a move vehemently opposed by Russia, European allies and opposition Democrats who consider the ABM pact a cornerstone of the international arms control regime.

But administration officials privately have told Republican Senate staff members that Bush expects to give formal notice in January of a required six-month withdrawal period from the treaty, Senate sources told Reuters.

"That's what our people have been hearing" -- that the administration plans to formally withdraw from the treaty, one Republican source said.

An announcement could come any time.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass and CNN reported separately on Tuesday that the Bush administration would soon officially announce it was leaving the treaty.


Critics reacted with alarm.

Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle, asked about the withdrawal reports, said: "That is not a good idea. It would be a real setback for U.S. defense and foreign policy."

Abandoning the ABM pact would be a "slap in the face" to the many people who have worked for years on reducing nuclear weapons, Daschle told CNN. "I would hope they would reconsider."

John Issacs of the Council for a Liveable World said that if Bush does formally withdraw from the pact, it means another victory for administration "ideologues" who last week helped scuttle a conference in Geneva on strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention.

The goal of this faction is "to destroy arms control and permit the United States to act unilaterally abroad against the views of the rest of the world," Issacs said. "Withdrawing from the ABM Treaty now is both unnecessary and unwise.

"Unnecessary because virtually all scientific experts believe that the U.S. can continue to test a missile defense system without breaking the ABM Treaty for many years to come. Unwise because it could start a chain reaction that jeopardizes the three decades of progress the United States has made in reducing the threat from nuclear weapons."

Even before he took office last January, Bush made clear his determination to scuttle the ABM treaty.

He believes the United States must vigorously develop a multibillion-dollar land, sea, air and possibly space-based system to protect the country and its allies from incoming missiles from "rogue" states like North Korea and Iraq.


Russia, the other major nuclear power, has opposed such a system and argued in favor of retaining the ABM.

In recent months -- especially since the Sept. 11 attacks -- Moscow has shown more willingness to work with Washington on the issue, including discussing a possible compromise to keep the treaty in force while giving the United States wide scope to test and develop missile defenses.

After talks in Moscow this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters the two sides "still have disagreements" on ABM but would continue working on the issue.

Some administration officials have believed for months that the United States would come to a point when it would need to invoke its right to withdraw from the ABM treaty as a way to pressure Russia to reach a compromise agreement.

Under the treaty, a country can signal its intention to withdraw for national security reasons. Once formal notice is given, the actual withdrawal does not happen for six months.

Some U.S. officials believe the Russians are resigned to Bush's determination to build a missile defense system and withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

During a news conference on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that based on what it heard from U.S. officials, his government was "not excluding the possibility that the U.S. may be withdrawing from the ABM Treaty."

As a result, Russia is "forecasting such an option" in its national security programs, he said.

Back to the Top    Next Article