US President Bush will soon give Russia notice that the United States is withdrawing from the 1972 nuclear treaty that bans testing of missile defense systems, US government officials said on Tuesday.
He will announce the decision in the next several days, effectively invoking a clause in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that requires the United States and Russia to give six months' notice before abandoning the pact.
Initial White House plans called for announcing the decision Thursday, but officials cautioned that date could change. The four government officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
With the decision, Bush takes the first step toward fulfilling a campaign pledge to develop and deploy an anti-missile system that he says will protect the United States and its allies, including Russia, from missiles fired by rogue nations.
Bush has said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks heightened the need for such a system.
Russia and many US allies have warned Bush that withdrawing from the pact might trigger a nuclear arms race. Critics of the plan also question whether an effective system can be developed without enormous expense.
Conservative Republicans have urged Bush to scuttle the ABM, rejecting proposals to amend the pact or find loopholes allowing for tests.
The president defended his push for a missile shield during a national security speech Tuesday at the Citadel in South Carolina.
``Last week we conducted another promising test of our missile defense technology,'' Bush said. ``For the good of peace, we're moving forward with an active program to determine what works and what does not work. In order to do so, we must move beyond the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a treaty that was written in a different era, for a different enemy.''
``America and our allies must not be bound to the past. We must be able to build the defenses we need against the enemies of the 21st century,'' he said.
According to Bush administration officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin had assured Bush during their October talks in Washington and Crawford, Texas, that US-Russian relations would not suffer even if Bush pulled out of the treaty.
They said Bush's decision reflects a desire by the Pentagon to conduct tests in the next six months or so that would violate the ABM.
The decision came as Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Moscow, said Russia and the United States are near agreement on drastic cuts in long-range nuclear arsenals, but remain at odds over a US missile defense.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the arms-reduction deal could be ready for the next summit between Bush and Putin, tentatively scheduled for Moscow next spring.
But the US-Russian disagreement over missile defense is so deep that Russia is bracing for the possibility of a US withdrawal from the landmark 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, Ivanov told a joint news conference with Powell at the Kremlin.
``The positions of the sides remain unchanged,'' Ivanov said.
Despite the missile-defense impasse, both Ivanov and Powell were upbeat about prospects for wrapping up a deal to reduce nuclear warheads.
Powell said he was taking Bush a Russian recommendation on arms cuts that responds to Bush's announcement last month that the United States would cut its nuclear arsenal over the next decade by two-thirds, from just under 6,000 warheads now to between 1,700 and 2,200.
Powell did not disclose specifics. But a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on Powell's plane, said the Russian recommendation was in the same ball park as the Bush announcement.
Ivanov said Russia prefers to see the reductions presented in treaty form. Bush has opposed such a move in the past, suggesting that the reductions should be put on less formal grounds.
(China Daily December 12, 2001)