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Official offers timetable on quitting ABM treaty

11 August 2001

By Warren P. Strobel Knight Ridder

Washington - The Bush administration intends to announce before the end of the year that it will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to pave the way for advanced missile defense tests early next year, a senior administration official said.

While President Bush has called the ABM Treaty a cold war relic and signaled his intent to move beyond it, this is the first time a senior official has offered a timetable for withdrawing from the pact.

Arms control advocates and some US allies consider the treaty the cornerstone of nuclear stability, and some Democrats in the Senate, which ratified the treaty in 1972, may seek ways to prevent the administration from abandoning it now.

The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, made his comments as US and Russian officials accelerated talks this week over missile defense and reductions in both sides' arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons.

The Washington talks on Tuesday and Wednesday, while cordial, made little real progress, said the senior official, who participated in them.

Because of Bush's year-end deadline, ''There's not a lot of time for (the Russians) to jaw over this,'' he said.

Bush has made it clear that he would seek Russia's cooperation in nullifying the ABM Treaty, perhaps in the form of a joint US-Russian statement that it is no longer valid.

But the president and his aides also have said they will move ahead without Moscow's consent.

The United States and Russia, the only two treaty signatories, must give six months' notice of withdrawal if either one were to determine that the pact ''jeopardized its supreme national interests.''

A second senior official confirmed that the president intends to give the six-month notice by the end of the year, but cautioned that Bush has not yet formally given the order to do so.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld leaves today for talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov. In preparation for that meeting, a senior Russian military delegation held two days of talks and briefings at the Pentagon this week.

Announcing its intent to abandon the treaty would permit the Bush administration to proceed with planned missile defense tests next spring that could violate the ABM Treaty's strict limits on antimissile testing and deployment.

The 1972 pact, signed by President Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, bans all but the most rudimentary systems for defending against long-range, nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, and prohibits many kinds of tests, as well.

The theory behind the pact, known as Mutual Assured Destruction, was that if both superpowers were vulnerable to attack, neither would launch a first nuclear strike for fear of devastating retaliation.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that the Pentagon's testing program could come into conflict with the treaty as early as February, when tests of antimissile and air defense radars are planned.

A senior Pentagon official, briefing reporters yesterday in advance of Rumsfeld's trip to Moscow, said that testing of a limited US missile defense system would continue, and that Bush would continue to seek Russia's backing for abandoning the ABM accord.

Boston Globe, (c) 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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