Bush Heads for NATO to Make Missile Defense Case

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MADRID (Reuters) - President Bush will try to convince skeptical NATO allies on Wednesday that his missile defense plan is a way to prevent nuclear blackmail by rogue states and not to win strategic superiority over Russia.

Flying to Brussels on the second leg of his five-nation, five-day European tour, Bush will take his case directly to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's leaders in an appearance at the Western security alliance's headquarters.

Many U.S. allies fear the missile defense envisaged by Bush may upset three decades of strategic stability because it will require amending or abandoning the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty which forbids such defensive systems.

Speaking in Madrid on Tuesday, his first stop on the trip that will take him to Belgium, Sweden, Poland and Slovenia, Bush dismissed the ABM treaty in his most blunt language, calling it a Cold War anachronism that must be set aside.

``The ABM treaty is a relic of the past,'' Bush said in a news conference, arguing in favor of a missile defense system of interceptors to protect against incoming missiles from ''rogue'' states like North Korea and Libya.

Russia and China have been particularly sharp critics of Bush's still-undefined vision of a missile defense system, saying it could spur an arms race.

Bush argued it was needed in a world where proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- whether nuclear, chemical or biological -- and the missiles to deliver them left the United States and its allies vulnerable to ``blackmail.''

Making his first official trip to Europe, Bush has run into strong European criticism on missile defense, his decision to abandon the 1997 Kyoto treaty on cutting greenhouse gases believed by many to cause global warming, and on the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on Monday.

On Tuesday, Bush defended his views on all three issues, getting somewhat heated when he discussed missile defense.

``The days of the Cold War have ended, and so must the Cold War mentality, as far as I' concerned,'' Bush said. ``We've got to have the discussions necessary to explain to our friends and allies, as well as Russia, that our intent is to make the world more peaceful, not more dangerous.''

A senior U.S. official said Bush looked forward to making the case to the other 18 members of NATO on Tuesday, as well as to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana on Saturday for the first time.

``He is going to make the case strongly to the allies that this is not some sneaky way to achieve strategic superiority over Russia,'' the U.S. official told reporters.

Having antagonized European allies by abandoning the Kyoto treaty without consulting them, Bush has been careful not to make the same mistake on missile defense, sending out a series of top U.S. officials to explain his views.

Bush aides said they are starting to see some movement among their allies on the subject, citing comments by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who went out of his way on Tuesday to compliment Bush and to chide his critics.

``What I'm surprised by is the fact that there are people who, from the start, disqualified his initiative,'' he said.

``In that way, they are also disqualifying the deterrents that have existed so far, and probably they would also disqualify any other kind of initiative. But what we're dealing with here is an attempt to provide greater security for everyone,'' Aznar said.
A senior U.S. official said the U.S. side was heartened by Aznar's position, calling him one of several European and NATO leaders ``who have a far more open mind on missile defense than one would believe'' from reading the newspapers.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and President George W. Bush face reporters at a press conference at Moncloa Palace in Madrid, June 12, 2001. Bush used the news conference to wade quickly into controversial topics like defense, the environment and the death penalty and did not budge from his long-held views. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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