NATO leaders skeptical on U.S. missile defense plan
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – NATO refused to endorse the Bush administration’s missile defense plans Tuesday despite efforts by Secretary of State Colin Powell to convince U.S. allies that +they face a common threat of attack.
NATO leaders, meeting for the first time in a country once part of the Soviet bloc, also indicated support for modestly trimming peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, which include 3,300 Americans.
Powell said he assured NATO allies that ”there is unanimity” within the Bush administration against acting alone in pulling U.S. peacekeepers out of the Balkans, despite comments by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that questioned continued U.S. presence in Bosnia.
France and Germany led resistance among NATO leaders to strong language on missile defense. NATO leaders promised only to maintain consultations with Washington as President Bush moves forward on his proposed missile shield.
Any missile defense plan ”must add to our security and stability. It must not lead to another arms race,” said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, urging more study.
Powell said he hoped to win more converts later and would follow though on a promise to consult closely with allies. Meanwhile, he said the administration would press ahead with planning.
”If you want to have systems that can deal with such a threat, you don’t wait until they’re pointed at your heart,” he said.
Powell did win a minor victory: NATO ministers omitted from their joint statement any reference to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Last year’s joint statement called the treaty ”the cornerstone of strategic stability.”
The Bush administration wants to scrap or heavily modify the treaty, which prohibits development of national missile defense systems by either Moscow or Washington.
On other issues, the alliance’s North Atlantic Council, NATO’s top policy-making unit, asserted that it was ”not advisable at this time” to consider major reductions or reorganization of peacekeeping operations in Bosnia.
NATO officials said they expect to cut about 10 percent to 15 percent in the peacekeeping force of 21,000 – of which 3,300 are Americans.
”The job is not yet completed,” NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson told a news conference.
NATO leaders also expressed alarm at rising violence and political instability in Macedonia. They urged the government to use ”proportionate force” in maintaining order and said rebels who use violence should be excluded from the negotiating table.
On missile defense, the final statement said NATO allies ”welcome the consultations initiated by President Bush on the U.S. strategic review, including missile defense.”
In the statement, the allies pledged to ”continue substantive consultations in the alliance on these issues.”
”We intend to pursue these consultations vigorously,” it added.
U.S. officials had worked behind the scenes for a joint statement that would cite a ”common threat” of missile attack. That would be stronger than the phrase ”potential threat” that was in a year-earlier statement.
Powell later told a news conference, ”I didn’t take a poll around the room of everybody’s views, but I think I can safely say that there is a recognition there’s a threat out there.”
”Some people see it as more immediate than others. Some people see it as greater than perhaps others. But I don’t think there’s any question that there’s some sort of threat out there.”
Tuesday’s vote doesn’t make the job any easier for Bush administration officials to sell the plan. Rumsfeld will try again next week when he meets with NATO defense ministers.
And the subject is certain to top the agenda at the June 13 heads-of-state NATO summit in Brussels, which Bush will attend.
Powell said he was pleased that the NATO statement excluded any reference to the ABM treaty
On the same omission, however, Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an arms-control advocacy group, said: ”The failure of NATO to even mention the ABM treaty indicates a major split remains in the alliance over missile defense.”
”The United States pushed hard to get the allies to agree they face a common threat from missile attack. The allies refused, undermining the Bush call for missile defenses,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters, ”There is no change as far as our position is concerned.” Russian opposes the missile-defense plan, although it has indicated willingness to talk with the Bush administration about it.
On the Net: State Department European-NATO desk: http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rt/
NATO home page: http://www.nato.int/home.htm
State Department background notes on Hungary: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/bgn/index.cfm?docid2852
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