WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush told congressional leaders
will withdraw from a treaty considered a cornerstone of arms control
but one that hampers his quest for a defense against missile attack.
Several senior Senate Democrats criticized the move. Sen. Joseph
R. Biden, D-Del., suggested there might be a legal case against
acting without Congressional approval.
``But quite frankly, I don't think that's a winning argument
... he is in all probability able to pull out of the treaty,''
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the president
informed him and three other congressional leaders of his decision
during a breakfast meeting at the White House.
Daschle has urged Bush not to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic
Bush is expected to make the announcement Thursday morning. It
will effectively terminate unsuccessful efforts to work out a
compromise with Russia in which the United States could go ahead
with tests that senior U.S. officials acknowledge ``bump up against''
Administration officials hope the move will not harm joint efforts
by the United States and Russia to make sharp cutbacks in their
offensive nuclear arms. And they say Russia will be advised of
steps taken to develop a missile shield in a spirit of cooperation.
Bush will invoke a clause in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty that provides for withdrawal from the accord with six months'
The next scheduled step is the beginning of construction next
spring of silos and a testing command center near Fairbanks, Alaska.
The impact of a U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 treaty could be
It would give the Pentagon a green light to conduct tests outlawed
by the treaty and make a sharper judgment on the kind of defense
that might work.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin has cautioned that a unilateral
U.S. withdrawal, which Bush has a legal right to do, could unravel
the fabric of arms control woven over three decades of painstaking
Vladimir Lukin, a former Russian ambassador to the United States,
disagreed. He argued that while U.S. withdrawal from the treaty
would not be seen as a strategic threat to Russia, it would deal
a blow to the friendlier relations that were developing between
the former enemies.
``Even after we have cooperated so closely and with such trust
in the course of the anti-terrorist operation, the United States
decides such questions from only one side,'' Lukin, who is now
a lawmaker with a liberal faction of Russia's parliament, told
``It is a bad sign for us, for our leadership and it is a bad
sign for our public opinion, which has started slowly to gain
more confidence in the United States,'' Lukin said.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the president
has long felt the United States must ``move beyond'' the ABM.
``The president believes very strongly that this promotes peace.
He thinks the worst signal to send to the Russian people is that
we're locked in the Cold War,'' he said.
Daschle, meanwhile, complained that the Russians and the American
media knew about the pending decision before members of Congress
were informed. He said Bush told him reports of the decision in
morning newspapers had been leaked by the Russians.
The Senate Majority leader said Bush had unilateral authority
to withdraw from the treaty but ``we are researching just what
specific legal options Congress has.''
Bush told Putin during their autumn talks in China that he would
withdraw from the ABM in January even if Russia had not agreed
to a deal by then. Bush, in a telephone call last week with Putin,
made his intentions clear again, one senior U.S. official said.