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Key Senators Express Concerns on ABM Withdrawal

Key Democrats in the U.S. Senate are expressing concern about President Bush's plans to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Mr. Bush Wednesday told lawmakers of his decision, which he is expected to formally announce as early as Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, is concerned that a U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty could antagonize U.S. allies and complicate relations with Russia and China.

Washington and Moscow signed the pact in 1972. Russia argues the treaty has maintained the strategic balance that has kept the peace for nearly three decades. But Mr. Bush, who views the accord as a Cold War relic, wants to move forward with plans to build a national missile defense system, which is prohibited under the treaty. The President wants such a system to protect against a missile attack from so-called 'rogue nations' like Iran or North Korea.

Senator Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, is concerned that by abandoning the ABM treaty and pursuing a missile shield, the United States would leave itself vulnerable to what he calls more realistic threats, such as nuclear proliferation. "My main concern is this signals a diversion of significant amounts of money away from the greatest priorities we have, both in terms of defending the United States from legitimate threats, the real threats that exist," says Mr. Biden. "Secondly it does significant damage to our overall effort to be able to engage the world in a genuine effort to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

Senator Biden argues that withdrawing from the ABM treaty could also jeopardize international cooperation in the U.S. war on terrorism. "These new patterns of cooperation the President has put in place and is supporting are not only young but very fragile," he says. "We should nourish these and build on them, this is not the time to thumb our nose at treaties."

Noting that the Senate had to ratify the ABM treaty, Mr. Biden suggested there might be a legal argument to be made that would prevent the President from withdrawing from the pact without Senate approval.

Majority Leader Daschle hinted that Congress could use its leverage by possibly denying funds for developing a missile defense system.