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Russia: U.S. President Bush Promises To Build Anti-Missile System

U.S. President George W. Bush says the world has changed fundamentally since the collapse of communism. Bush says Russia is no longer America's enemy. But the president says there are potential new threats to the U.S. and its allies such as renegade states. Bush says he wants to build a defense system capable of repelling a missile attack on America. At the same time, he is proposing further cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Washington, 2 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- President George W. Bush says the United States is committed to building a defense system that would repel a ballistic missile attack from renegade states.

Bush also is proposing unspecified deep cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He said in a Washington speech on Tuesday the world has changed fundamentally since the Cold War, requiring a revision of America's military strategy.

The president said Russia is no longer an enemy.

"Today's Russia is not yesterday's Soviet Union. It's government is no longer communist. It's president is elected. Today's Russia is not our enemy but a country in transition with an opportunity to emerge as a great nation, democratic, at peace with itself and its neighbors."

Bush noted the U.S. and its allies no longer face the threat of an expansionist Warsaw Pact led by the Soviet Union.

"The Iron Curtain no longer exists. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are free nations, and they are now our allies in NATO, together with a reunited Germany. Yet, this is still a dangerous world, a less certain, a less predictable one."

Bush said more nations have nuclear weapons capability today than ever before. He said many have chemical and biological weapons and others have developed a ballistic missile technology to deliver them. Bush said like Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, some of today's tyrants are gripped by hatred of the U.S. and what it stands for.

Bush said that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty stands in the way of building an anti-missile shield to meet potential future challenges. However, he did not call for the outright abrogation of the ABM Treaty.

The treaty, signed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union and later extended to Russia and other former Soviet nuclear states, prohibits, among other things, large scale nuclear defense systems.

The original purpose of the treaty was to maintain the nuclear balance of power and prevent a renewed arms race.

Specifically, the ABM treaty bans any missile defense system from covering an entire country, authorizing localized systems at two sites -- around a country's capital, and at one other location at least 1,300 kilometers distant.

At each site no more than 100 interceptor missiles and 100 launchers would be permitted.

The treaty stipulates that a party to it may withdraw "if it decides that extraordinary events related to subject matter of this treaty have jeopardized its supreme interest." Notice of withdrawal must be provided to the other party six-months prior to the withdrawal.

In his speech on Tuesday, Bush said Russia and the United States should work together to develop a new foundation for world peace and security.

The president said:

"I'm committed to achieving a credible deterrent with the lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security interest needs, including our obligations to our allies. My goal is to move quickly to reduce nuclear forces. The United States will lead by example to achieve our interests and the interests of the free world."

The U.S. currently has about 7,200 nuclear weapons. Both the U.S. and Russia are committed to cut their nuclear arsenals under existing agreements.

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle criticized Bush's missile shield proposal. He said his party would demand detailed answers on the cost, feasibility, and international ramifications of such a plan. Congress has the authority to approve or deny paying for the project.

Senator Joe Biden, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Democrat, said that a strategic missile attack on the United States was an unlikely scenario.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio said the Bush plan was a "recipe for instability." Kucinich said the proposed missile system would leave America more vulnerable rather than more secure.

Bush telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to inform him about his missile defense plan and to say he was open for an early summit.

Bush said Putin asked whether there is a chance the two could meet before the summit of the group of industrialized nations in Genoa, Italy, in late July.

Bush said he told Putin that he would like to meet with him beforehand "to look him in the eye and let him know how sincere I am" about maintaining peace.