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U.S.: Candidate Bush Outlines Defense Policy Vision

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush Tuesday outlined his vision of 21st century American defense policy in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports:

Washington, 24 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush outlined on Tuesday how he would seek to ensure "certainty in an uncertain world," if he were elected president.

He prefaced his remarks in Washington by saying that America needs a new approach to nuclear security that matches the new era. Bush then spoke specifically to the direction he would take as president on a proposed national missile defense. Bush said the decision should be based first and foremost on present-day reality -- not Cold War history:

"Our nation must recognize new threats, not fixate on old ones. On the issue of nuclear weapons, the United States has an opportunity to lead to a safer world, both to defend against nuclear threats, and reduce nuclear tensions. It is possible to build a missile defense and diffuse confrontation with Russia. America should do both."

In addition, Bush said he thought the U.S. should remove as many weapons as possible from "high-alert" status, which he called another vestige of Cold War confrontation. He said two nations at peace keeping so many weapons on high alert could create unacceptable risks of accident or unauthorized launch.

Bush said America's future missile defense must be designed to protect all 50 states, as well as foreign allies, with whom he said America would consult.

Russia is but one nation that has been very forthright in its objection to a proposed U.S. national missile defense, which it sees as a threat to its security and in opposition to existing U.S./Russian arms control agreements. Bush acknowledged Russia's concerns and said he would seek to bring them on board by stressing that America is, above all, about peace:

"America's development of missile defenses is a search for security, not a search for advantage."

In order to reduce Russia's concerns, Bush said the U.S. should signal Russia that it is willing to reduce its cold war nuclear arsenals significantly further. At the same time, he said he would not approve levels so low as to risk American security or that of its allies. He also ruled out further cuts, if Russia did not follow suit and did not "conduct itself as a member of the family of nations."

Bush's comments on a national missile defense come a little more than a week before U.S. President Bill Clinton travels to Moscow for summit-level talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to focus -- among other things -- on arms control. Bush urged Clinton not to make any deals that would inhibit the ability of the next president to examine all options available:

"As I said, no treaty, no agreement, would be better than a flawed agreement. I'm concerned that this administration is not fully devoted to the development of an anti-ballistic missile system that will work." Later, at the White House, Presidential Spokesman Joe Lockhart dismissed Bush's remarks as "contradictory" and lacking in specific details:

"He gave a sort of contradictory argument today on his belief that we can reduce nuclear weapons and that somehow the current administration is stuck in a Cold War mentality, while making a broad argument for an expansive national missile defense along the lines that we saw discussed in the 1980's, which I think very much reflected a Cold War mentality. So, I think while the speeches in their generalities may make some point that he is trying to make politically, at some point in time, he has got to put some details on this."

One detail sorely missing, Lockhart said, is how Bush proposes to pay for such a global missile defense.

Lockhart also defended current Clinton administration policy on national missile defense as "sound" in its approach and he said American officials would continue to engage the Russians on arms control issues.

Meanwhile, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), commended Bush's missile defense approach as "comprehensive, far-sighted, and statesmanlike."

Bush was also joined in support today by several former senior U.S. officials including former U.S. Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Colin Powell. All appeared on stage with Bush.