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Bush consults allies on eve of missile defense speech

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush spoke by telephone Monday with the leaders of four major U.S. allies and with NATO's chief to discuss his plan for building defenses against ballistic missiles. The plan could include missiles in Alaska, along with sea-based interceptors and perhaps weapons in space.

On Tuesday, Bush is scheduled to outline his missile defense plan in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush spoke with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as Lord Robertson, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The European allies have been cool to the idea of a large-scale U.S. missile defense, knowing that the Russians view it as an attempt by the United States to establish absolute military dominance. China also is strongly opposed.

''The 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,'' Fleischer said.

The missile defense favored by Bush is a shield of global reach rather than covering only U.S. territory. It bears a striking resemblance to the approach his father's Pentagon was pursuing a decade ago.

Rose Gottemoeller, a nuclear weapons expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Monday that Bush may be willing to commit the United States to reducing its nuclear arsenal to a range of 1,500 to 2,000 warheads, which compares with the 2,000-2,500 range President Clinton had accepted.

On missile defense, the question Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been mulling is how to go beyond the current approach that is focused on a land-based intercept system designed to protect just the 50 U.S. states. That land-based systems was expected to end up in Alaska.

One approach reported to be under consideration by Rumsfeld and Bush is known as a ''layered'' missile defense.

It might combine the Clinton approach, ground-launched rockets to intercept missiles midway through flight, with sea- and space-based weapons that would make the intercept during the hostile missile's ascent phase, or while its rocket plume was still burning inside the atmosphere.

The result would be a missile defense system with global reach.

Brig. Gen. Michael Hamel, director of space operations for the Air Force, said last week he supports that approach.

''Layered missile defense is absolutely the right way to go,'' he said.

More than 30 scientists and missile experts who oppose the administration's push for missile defense planned to gather at the Capitol on Wednesday to assert that the science of missile defense is too immature to justify moving ahead with a project expected to costs tens of billions of dollars.

The administration has made clear it will press ahead. When, at what cost and with what blueprint are the only questions.

How far-reaching a missile defense should be is a sensitive issue.

For one, it affects the degree of political support by Canada and U.S. allies in Europe. It also bears on the prohibitions against certain missile defenses spelled out in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

The first Bush administration believed that with the demise of the Soviet Union the emphasis in missile defense should shift from protection of the United States against an attack by thousands of nuclear missiles to protection of America and its allies against perhaps several dozen missiles of any origin.

It was called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, or GPALS, and was made public at a Pentagon news conference Feb. 12, 1991.

The official who presented the $32 billion plan was Stephen J. Hadley -- then an assistant secretary of defense, now a deputy national security adviser to Bush. The defense secretary at the time was Dick Cheney, now the vice president.

Rumsfeld may come up with a different acronym, but the concept of global protection is likely to be a key aspect of whatever missile defense program the administration decides to pursue, in the view of many private analysts who follow the subject closely.

''After the president's speech we will no longer talking about national missile defense,'' but instead a global or international approach that is much broader than the Clinton administration was developing, said Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Alan Frye, an arms control expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he believes, based on his contacts with administration officials involved in the matter, that Bush will adopt a GPALS-like approach. He also thinks it highly unlikely Bush will announce a U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty, but rather that he is willing to discuss possible missile defense cooperation with the Russians.

Morton Halperin, director of policy planning at the State Department during the Clinton administration, said he believes the Russians would be more likely to engage in missile defense talks if Bush also committed to reducing the U.S. offensive nuclear arsenal to 1,500 or 1,000 warheads.

The United States now has about 7,200 active warheads and is committed to cutting to 3,500; Clinton favored cutting to 2,500, although that has not been made a binding commitment.

Rumsfeld has made a point lately of saying that he has stopped using the term ''national missile defense,'' because ''what's 'national' depends on where you live,'' as he put it to reporters March 8. His point was that if a U.S. missile defense is capable of protecting, say, Japan, then it is ''national'' to the Japanese but is global to everyone else.

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