President Bush Wednesday briefed Congressional leaders on his just-concluded trip to Europe. The discussion centered on U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in violation of an arms treaty with Russia.
Mr. Bush told Congressional leaders that he has made progress in convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin to adopt a new "strategic framework" with the United States. The Bush administration is seeking such a new "framework" because it wants to build a missile defense system that would violate the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile treaty.
President Bush and President Putin agreed to link progress toward missile defense with an overall reduction in existing nuclear arsenals. That is something Russia has been pushing for so it can reduce its defense budget. It is a linkage that President Bush had earlier ruled-out, but now represents what White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says is the president's "new way of thinking beyond the Cold War."
"He believes that Russia and President Putin can be welcomed in the West, that they look Westward, that their future is in the West, that their chances to be an even-stronger nation rely on openness to the West which is dependent on the reforms that Russia is working hard to make under President Putin," Mr. Fleischer said.
The existing ABM treaty allows for defenses against shorter-range missiles but not against intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Pentagon plans to develop a $60 billion system of land-based, sea-launched, and airborne missile defenses over the next four years. President Bush says he would like to do that with Russia's consent, but will do it anyway even if they object.
Among the Congressional leaders who met Mr. Bush Wednesday was Republican Senator John Warner who was with then-President Nixon when the ABM treaty was signed nearly 30 years ago. He says President Bush is doing the right thing in moving U.S.-Russian security relations out of the Cold War and into a new era of cooperation.
"I think the president is exactly right. The treaty has outlived its purposes. A new framework should be put in place," the senator said. "The challenge to the congress and the president is to move forward this year with our authorization bill giving him the funds to explore the new options to study an architecture that can protect America against a limited attack from missiles."
Democratic Senator Carl Levin says the Bush administration must move slowly on missile defense so as to have a new security arrangement in place before American testing violates the treaty.
"I am hopeful that he will take the necessary time to try to get the changes that are necessary so that the testing can go forward without any limits, and I think he reflected the importance, however, of the relationship with Russia so that can be done without tearing-down the old structure before a new one is in place," he said.
U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice is in Russia for talks on the missile defense plan. The Bush administration does not intend to re-negotiate the ABM treaty but instead wants a new security framework focusing on possible attack from what Ms. Rice called "rogue states," including Iraq and North Korea.