White House shows a new flexibility on world treaties

Bush now willing to deal on ABMs, germ warfare, global warming pacts

War On Terrorism

The World

November 02, 2001|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Determined to shore up world support for a prolonged war on terrorism, the White House has adopted a new flexibility toward the kind of international agreements it once disparaged.

As President Bush prepares for a summit with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin starting Nov. 13, senior administration officials are signaling a willingness to continue abiding by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, at least for the time being. This would be part of a deal that would allow tests of a missile defense system, which Bush has made a top priority, and deep cuts in strategic nuclear weapons, which both sides favor.

With public alarm mounting over anthrax attacks, the White House announced proposals yesterday to strengthen a 1972 treaty banning biological weapons. In July, the Bush administration rejected a proposal for major new treaty provisions that took six years to negotiate.

Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats meeting in Morocco with representatives of other nations are trying to come up with an alternative to the Kyoto pact on global warming, which Bush withdrew from this year.

The Bush administration's new seriousness about international agreements marks a shift from its stance before the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

"It's quite a turnaround for the administration," said Joseph Cirincione, an arms control specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Bush came in determined to get out of what he saw as treaty restraints. He brought in a whole team of experts who wanted a break with the treaty regime. After September 11, suddenly he needed multilateral support big time, and treaties he scorned looked a lot more useful."

The changed attitude toward the ABM Treaty fits in with a transformation in U.S.-Russian relations since the terror attacks, with Putin seizing the opportunity to align his country with the West.

The ABM Treaty bars development and deployment of nationwide systems intended to block U.S. and Soviet ballistic missiles. The theory was that if either side were able to protect itself against the other's missiles, it would be more tempted to launch a first strike. Bush has called the accord a relic of the Cold War.

As the summit approaches, officials are trying to nail down an arms agreement that would anchor a broad new strategic relationship between the two countries that also covers ways to combat terrorism and the spread of dangerous weapons.

The Bush administration had threatened to pull out of the ABM Treaty unilaterally, calling it an impediment to the testing and development of an anti-missile shield.

Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, continued to insist yesterday that Bush wants to "move beyond the ABM Treaty." She said it "constrains our ability to fully explore the possibilities for a missile defense" and "is not representative of the kind of relationship that we have with the Russians."

But Russia has shown no willingness to join in scrapping the treaty. Rice, while declining to say what form an agreement would take, held out the possibility of keeping the treaty while the United States continues testing.

Asked whether the United States could accept a two-phased agreement, with the future of the ABM Treaty to be decided in the second phase, she said: "I do think that all of the time that we've spent in discussions with the Russians, all of the time that they've spent with us, that we are understanding better each other and what our own constraints and demands are."

She declined to specify the levels of cuts in strategic warheads likely to be agreed on, but said the president favors significant cuts. The Associated Press quoted a senior U.S. official as saying that each side's arsenal would be cut by about two-thirds, from the 6,000 warheads at present to about 1,750 to 2,250.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met for 3 1/2 hours yesterday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Ivanov told reporters that his discussions with Powell were "substantial and constructive," and said the two sides want to ensure that "documents on the key issues" are ready for the meeting.

The White House cautioned against expecting a completed agreement in time for the summit.

Powell and Ivanov have another meeting planned next week and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld leaves today for meetings in Moscow that are to include discussions of the treaty.

"I suspect that the ribbon will not be placed around the thing until President Bush and President Putin meet and sort through the several important issues," Rumsfeld said.

When the Bush administration rejected a lengthy biological weapons protocol in July, officials said that they would work on new proposals to strengthen the accord. Some of the proposals announced yesterday began to take shape even before the Sept. 11 attacks, Rice said.

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