U.S. President George W. Bush says he still wants to scrap the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty over the objections of Russia, despite Moscow's help in America's war against international terrorism. Bush says the treaty -- which would forbid a missile-defense system he wants to deploy -- is antiquated. And he says September's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington demonstrate the need for such a system.
Washington, 12 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says the terrorist attacks of 11 September support his argument that America needs a missile-defense system and that the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, or ABM, is out of date.
During a news conference last night at the White House, Bush also said the U.S. has no immediate plans to take its war against international terrorism outside of Afghanistan, although it is carefully watching Iraq.
And he confirmed news reports that the U.S. is prepared to support the creation of a Palestinian state as long as its government recognizes the right of Israel to exist.
Bush called the news conference in an effort to reassure the American people that his government is doing all it can both at home and abroad to protect them from further acts of terrorism. He said Washington is doing its best to neutralize Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization on military, diplomatic, law-enforcement, and financial fronts.
One reporter asked if Bush still intends to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, or ABM, even over the objections of Russia, which is providing important cooperation with the U.S. in the war on terrorism. The U.S. signed the treaty with Russia's predecessor, the Soviet Union, in 1972, at the height of the Cold War.
The purpose of the accord was to limit the era's arms buildup. Russia and even some of America's allies argue that scrapping the treaty would lead to a new arms race. The treaty would prohibit Bush's intention to build a missile defense system to protect the U.S. not from nuclear powers like Russia or China, but from what Washington calls "rogue" states like Iraq or North Korea.
Last night, Bush said the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington demonstrate the need for such a system. And he said he is eager to discuss the issue in an upcoming meeting in China with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I can't wait to visit with my friend Vladimir Putin in Shanghai to reiterate once again that the Cold War is over, it's done with, and that there are new threats that we face, and no better example of that new threat than the attack on America on 11 September. And I'm going to ask my friend to envision a world in which a terrorist thug and/or a host nation might have the ability to develop -- to deliver a weapon of mass destruction via a rocket. And wouldn't it be in our nation's advantage to be able to shoot it down?"
Bush did not directly answer a follow-up question on whether Washington is prepared to abandon the treaty unilaterally over Russia's explicit objection. He said only: "I have told Mr. Putin that the ABM treaty is outdated, antiquated, and useless, and I hope that he will join us in a new strategic relationship."
On the subject of terrorism itself, Bush for the first time said he would reconsider the military strikes that allied planes are carrying out against Al-Qaeda and Taliban positions in Afghanistan if the Taliban were to surrender bin Laden now.
Bush has repeatedly said that his campaign against terrorists and those who harbor them is not limited to bin Laden, who is believed to be behind the attacks on New York and Washington that killed more than 5,500 people. Last night, he was asked if he plans to take the war to Iraq, which America has often accused of supporting terrorism.
Bush replied: "There's no question that the leader of Iraq is an evil man. After all, he gassed his own people. We know he's been developing weapons of mass destruction. And I think it's in his advantage to allow [weapons] inspectors back in his country to make sure that he's conforming to the agreement he made after he was soundly trounced in the Gulf War. And so we're watching him very carefully."
Bush also was asked about Syria, another suspected state sponsor of terrorism. He replied that Syria has been helpful in the current campaign by providing valuable intelligence.
He also made a point of saying he appreciates the help of Saudi Arabia. This was in stark contrast to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's rejection yesterday of a $10-million check to help in the reconstruction of the city that was offered by a member of the Saudi royal family. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal said in a statement that the attacks on New York and Washington were in part a result of America's Middle East policies, which he said favor Israel over the Palestinians.
At last night's news conference, Bush said his administration is prepared to support what Palestinians have been seeking for a half-century: their own state. But he emphasized that such a state must recognize the right of Israel to exist. He also said he is prepared to meet with Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority, but only for a substantive exchange, not just to give Arafat the opportunity to be photographed with the president of the United States.
Since he was campaigning for the presidency last year, Bush has been emphatic that he does not believe the U.S. should engage in what he calls "nation-building": helping emerging or developing countries create the institutions necessary to become free-market democracies. He has in the past said such processes cannot be imposed on the people of these countries.
Last night, Bush was asked about "nation-building" in Afghanistan once allied forces and local insurgents break the Taliban's control of the country. Bush replied: "One of the things we've got to make sure of is that all parties, all interested parties, have an opportunity to be a part of a new [Afghan] government, that we shouldn't play favorites between one group or another within Afghanistan. Secondly, we've got to work for a stable Afghanistan so that her neighbors don't fear terrorist activity again coming out of that country. Third, it'd be helpful, of course, to eradicate narco-trafficking out of Afghanistan as well. I believe that the United Nations could provide the framework necessary to help meet those conditions."
Bush closed the news conference with a plea to American children to help the children of Afghanistan directly. He asked each child in the country to earn one dollar and send it to the White House. The president said the money will then be forwarded to Afghan children who have been suffering through years of war and famine.
Bush said these gifts will symbolize the generosity and compassion of the American people.