Sat, Aug 25, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Bush to consign ABM missile treaty to history

REUTERS , CRAWFORD, TEXAS

US President George W. Bush flatly declared on Thursday that the US would withdraw "on our timetable" from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, a long-standing cornerstone of arms control.

In one of his most explicit statements on the issue, Bush told reporters the accord hampered US ability to keep the peace because it prohibited deployment of a missile defense shield. He said he had made that clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We will withdraw from the ABM treaty on our timetable at a time convenient to America," Bush said. "I have no specific timetable in mind." He added that Washington would continue to "consult closely" with its allies in Europe and with Putin.

But administration officials have said crucial decisions must be made before Bush and Putin met in November at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. The treaty requires either side to give six months' notice of its intent to withdraw.

Bush told reporters at the Crawford Elementary School that Putin knew the US position.

"I have made it clear that I think the treaty hampers our ability to keep the peace," he said. "I do know that Mr. Putin is aware of our desires to move beyond the ABM treaty and we will."

Bush and Putin agreed in July to link missile defense to mutual cuts in their respective nuclear arsenals, and ordered officials to fast-track talks on a new security relationship. But time is running out for Russia to extract concessions from Washington. The US has warned its testing program would "bump against" the ABM treaty within months, not years.

The Pentagon has given the go-ahead to begin clearing ground in Alaska this month to prepare for construction of a missile-defense test site. Pentagon officials have said the initial clearing work would not violate the ABM treaty. Moscow has thus far rejected requests by the Bush administration to jointly abandon the ABM treaty, negotiated between the US and former Soviet Union.

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