Washington, 12 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has informed leaders of Congress of his decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, or ABM. U.S. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) says Bush spoke of his plans during a breakfast today that included Daschle and other members of Congress.
The U.S. president has said the treaty is an irrelevant relic of the Cold War because it does not reflect the new, friendly relations between the United States and Russia. It also is an obstacle to the president's plan to deploy a missile-defense system.
Russia opposes the U.S. proposal to scrap the bilateral treaty. Earlier today, the chairman of the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Dmitrii Rogozin, said Russia should respond to Bush's decision by stockpiling nuclear warheads and further develop long-range rockets with multiple warheads. Rogozin said Russia would be left with little incentive to live up to disarmament commitments. He said multiple warhead missiles provide a cheap way to preserve nuclear parity with the United States.
"The New York Times" reported today that President Bush told Russian President Vladimir Putin last week of the U.S. decision. Russia's Interfax news agency reports that Russia has received the notification.
The ABM Treaty includes a clause that requires the United States or Russia to give the other six months' notice before abandoning the pact. The move is seen as a first step toward fulfilling a Bush campaign pledge to develop and deploy an anti-missile system that he says will protect the United States and its allies from missiles fired by rogue nations.
During a speech yesterday in the southern U.S. city of Charleston, Bush said: "Rogue states are clearly the most likely sources of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons for terrorists. Every nation now knows that we cannot accept and we will not accept states that harbor, finance, train or equip the agents of terror."
In that speech, Bush repeated that the United States "must move beyond" the ABM Treaty so that it can develop a missile-defense system. But he stopped short of announcing a formal intent to withdraw.
On 21 November, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia and the United States were no closer to resolving their dispute over the proposed missile-defense system than they had been at a 13-15 November summit in the U.S. between Bush and Putin. Ivanov said Russia was waiting for concrete proposals from the U.S. side.
Bush announced a unilateral cut in U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles to the level of 1,700-2,200 warheads over the coming 10 years during his summit with Putin. The Russian president said his country was also ready to slash its nuclear stockpile from around 6,000 to 2,000 warheads, although he gave no timeframe for such a reduction.