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Senate Democrats Criticize ABM Treaty Withdrawal

Senate Democrats Criticize Bush ABM Treaty Withdrawal

- Senior Senate Democrats Criticize Bush ABM Treaty Withdrawal

US Dept of State List Manager

Senior Senate Democrats Criticize Bush ABM Treaty Withdrawal

(They warn it could trigger new arms race, harm U.S. security) (790) By Ralph Dannheisser Washington File Congressional Correspondent

Washington -- President Bush's historic decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has drawn sharp criticism from senior congressional Democrats, who say it carries the potential for unleashing a new arms race.

But while Democrats who commented on the president's announcement of the step December 13 said it could harm, rather than improve, U.S. security, Republicans tended to be supportive in their reaction.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan) warned that possible retaliatory steps by Russia in withdrawing from other arms control treaties would "likely lead to an action-reaction cycle in offensive and defensive technologies, including countermeasures." And, Levin said, "That kind of arms race would not make us more secure."

Expressing similar sentiments, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (Democrat, South Dakota) termed abrogation of the treaty "a high price to pay for testing that's not required this early in the schedule for missile defense."

Bush had justified the step by noting that staying within the bounds of the treaty would block the United States from conducting types of testing expected to be needed shortly, as the administration continues developing missile defense technology. A treaty provision allows either side to withdraw upon six months' notice.

Daschle said he is concerned that the action "could rupture relations with key countries and governments around the world. And, he said, "It presents some very serious questions with regard to future arms races involving other countries, and sends the wrong message to the world with regard to our intent in abiding with treaties."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware) agreed with Daschle on the timing issue. "I'm at a loss to understand what the urgency of having to pull out of the AMB Treaty is. I'm at a loss to understand how the tests that they believe they have to conduct now are necessary to determine whether or not a system is feasible," Biden told reporters at a news briefing held December 12, when reports that Bush would act the following day surfaced.

Going a step further in questioning the rationale for development of a missile defense shield, Biden opined that "The thing we remain the least vulnerable to, the least vulnerable to, is an ICBM [inter-continental ballistic missile] attack from another nation with a return address on the nation firing that, knowing that they will, in fact, be annihilated and obliterated."

Biden speculated that the administration's move would reverse the trend of increasing cooperation with Russia on a range of issues. "Although they have no veto right on that, they can make it more difficult on our European allies to go along with us on expansion of NATO -- all the way from that to determination of cooperation with Iran and Iraq in terms of limiting their potential capability to do damage to that region or to us," he said.

Beyond that, the Foreign Relations chairman speculated, the move could induce China to develop an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles "considerably larger than it would have been," and that in turn will "put incredible pressure on India and Pakistan and eventually will begin -- mark my words, within five years there'll be a debate in Japan about whether or not they should be a nuclear power."

Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican, Nebraska), appearing at a joint news conference with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (Republican, Texas) December 13, said he supports the Bush decision to provide formal notification that the United States will withdraw from the treaty.

"This announcement fulfills the president's stated commitment of America's defense," Hagel said. "The world has changed since the ABM Treaty was signed in 1972 and formed the cornerstone of our nuclear deterrent."

Hagel noted that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the lead U.S. negotiator when the treaty was developed, believes it has lost its relevance in a world in which more potential adversaries possess nuclear weapons, and also supports the president's decision.

"The Senate supports a missile defense system," Hagel said, citing a 97-3 vote on the issue in 1999. "By stating our intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, the president is moving forward with the necessary steps to build one," Hagel said.

On the House side of the Capitol, Majority Leader Richard Armey (Republican, Texas) issued a statement in which he said, "I applaud the president for opening a promising new chapter in our nation's strategic history."

"The threat of attack from rogue states and organizations grows every day. The president understands that America must be prepared to defend against new threats from new enemies of freedom," Armey said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: NNNN

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