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Bush Consults NATO Allies On Plans for Missile Defense

By Steven Mufson

President Bush phoned the leaders of four major allies and the secretary general of NATO yesterday to press forward with plans for missile defenses and to preview a speech he will deliver today arguing that deterrence is no longer enough to protect against possible nuclear attacks, senior administration officials said.

In his speech at the National Defense University, Bush will call the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty a figment of the past, without directly calling for its abrogation, a senior administration official said. He will also declare that the United States will explore all missile defense options -- land, sea and space-based -- to head off accidental launches as well as attacks and blackmail threats from rogue states.

The 1972 ABM treaty, which bans national missile defenses and has been a cornerstone of international arms control agreements, “doesn’t describe the current world,” said the official, “and will get in the way of our pursuing promising avenues before us.”

At the same time, Bush will call for consultations with Russia and China, and for cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal to the “lowest possible level,” the official said.

Bush wants “to think in a new direction about how to protect the United States from rogue and accidental missile launch in the post-Cold War era,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. “His message to Russia is that the development of a missile defense system -- so we can think beyond the confines of the Cold War era -- is the best way to preserve the peace.”

The speech is not expected to be much more specific about Bush’s missile defense plans than an address he gave on the same topic nearly a year ago, during the presidential campaign. One official said some administration members felt there was little need for Tuesday’s speech, seeing no point in fanning controversy before the administration has determined what kind of system it wants to build.

But another senior administration official said Bush wanted to “have real consultations” with allies, rather than present a plan as “a fait accompli.” The official said “some real work has been done, but there are still some options as far as the architecture (of the anti-missile system) goes.”

Fleischer said Bush made a series of calls Monday, about 10 minutes each, to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and NATO Secretary General George Robertson “to begin the consultation process.”

American “consultation teams” will go to Europe next week, and the administration hopes to move talks forward by June, when Bush is scheduled to attend a meeting of NATO leaders, or by July, when heads of the Group of Seven major industrial countries are to meet. “We would hope to have made substantial progress by then,” the senior official said, “but there’s no deadline.”

The official added that, although talks will begin with Russian officials next week, “no one expects them to be excited” about the prospect of missile defense. It will take time for them “to make that mental shift” away from the ABM treaty and toward missile defense, the official said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.