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1972 ABM Pact Expires Despite Some US Congressional Reluctance - 2002-06-13


America's withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is now official, six months after President Bush notified Moscow that he was pulling out of the pact. The president marked the demise of the treaty by vowing to deploy a missile defense system as soon as possible.

President Bush says now, more than ever, the United States needs to develop and deploy effective defenses against a limited missile attack.

He says the ABM treaty, which bans such anti-missile programs, is a relic of the cold war, and the strategic challenges of the 21st century require new thinking. He says they also require action.

In a written statement, Mr. Bush stresses the threat now facing the United States does not come from Russia, but from terrorists and hostile states that seek weapons of mass destruction.

The president says this threat also faces America's allies and friends around the world, and he wants to work with them on missile defenses.

He makes specific mention of Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying Moscow and Washington are looking for ways to cooperate. Mr. Bush says over the last year, Russia and the United States have worked hard to overcome the legacy of the cold war. And, he says, cooperation on missile defense can help build a new strategic relationship.

Mr. Putin urged President Bush not to withdraw from the ABM accord, calling it a cornerstone of arms control and warning its demise could set off a new arms race. But just a few weeks ago Russia and the United States signed a new agreement drastically reducing their long-range nuclear arsenals.

Both countries did little Thursday to note the official passing of the A-B-M treaty. There were no public events at the White House, and the only comments before television cameras and microphones came from presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer.

"As the events of September 11th make clear, the United States and Russia no longer live in a cold war world in which the A-B-M treaty was designed," he said.

President Richard Nixon signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev in the Kremlin in May, 1972. The notion at the time was that both countries had enough missiles to destroy each other many times over, with or without a missile defense system.

But the emergence of other nuclear states, in part, led President Ronald Reagan in the 1980's to propose a missile defense system. And the terrorist attacks of September 11th provided the final impetus for the announcement of a U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty.

In his four-paragraph statement hailing the demise of the accord, President Bush urges congress to fully fund his budget for missile defense. Republican leaders have signaled their support. But at the same time several dozen lawmakers have gone to court to try to save the ABM treaty, alleging that the president did not adequately consult with the legislature before announcing his decision last December.

But at the same time several dozen lawmakers have gone to court to try to save the ABM treaty, alleging that the president did not adequately consult with the legislature before announcing his decision last December. White House officials say legal precedent is with the administration, noting similar lawsuits filed against former Presidents Reagan and Carter were dismissed by judges.

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