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IN THE NEWS - December 15, 2001: Bush/ABM Treaty - 2001-12-14

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Program, IN THE NEWS.

President Bush has announced that the United States will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States and the former Soviet Union signed the treaty in Nineteen-Seventy-Two.

The ABM treaty bans national missile-defense systems that protect against long range missiles. It was designed to guarantee it would not be safe for either side to begin a nuclear attack against the other. President Bush says the threat of international terrorism requires the United States to move beyond the treaty. The withdrawal takes effect in six months.

Mister Bush made the announcement Thursday at the White House. It marked the first time that the United States has withdrawn from a major arms control treaty. The announcement ended months of negotiations with Russia, which opposed the action.

The president said he could not -- and would not -- permit the United States to remain in the treaty. He said the treaty prevents effective defenses against missiles that terrorists or nations could fire at the United States.

Mister Bush said the world was very different when the United States and the former Soviet Union signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile agreement. He said dangerous tensions between the two nuclear powers ended long ago. He also said the present disagreement would not wreck good relations between the United States and Russia.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin called the American decision to withdraw from the treaty “a mistake.” He said the treaty has been extremely important to world security over the years. However, he said American withdrawal does not threaten Russian security. Mister Putin also promised to honor his proposal to reduce Russia’s nuclear weapons. He spoke on national television.

In China, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman expressed concern about American plans for its new missile-defense system. Sweden warned that Mister Bush’s decision risked serious problems. The nation said the decision could incite a new international race to develop weapons. However, Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel said he understands the American withdrawal. He said the Nineteen-Seventy-Two missile agreement is out of date.

The missile-defense system Mister Bush wants is mainly meant to protect from small-scale attacks. The plan calls for development and deployment of a defensive barrier for the whole United States. The system would be able to find and destroy missiles directed at the nation. It is currently being tested.

Russia had set conditions for the United States to continue with the new system under the A-B-M treaty. It said the United States could do so if it told Russia each time it launched a missile. Russia remained firm in that demand, while the United States continually refused it.

This VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS, was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Steve Ember.