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CNN Live Event/Special

U.S. Will Unilaterally Withdraw from ABM Treaty

Aired December 13, 2001 - 09:57   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And we just wanted to alert you that the president is expected to come out in a minute or two to formally announce that the United States is withdrawing from the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile Teaty so that it can continue testing for the administration's missile defense program.

Let's listen to the president.


I've just concluded a meeting with my National Security Council. We reviewed what I've discussed with my friend, President Vladimir Putin, over the course of many meetings, many months, and that is the need for America to move beyond the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Today, I have given formal notice to Russia, in accordance with the treaty, that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.

I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorists or rogue state missile attacks.

The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world.

One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists, and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other. The grim theory was that neither side would launch a nuclear attack because it knew the other would respond, thereby destroying both.

Today, as the events of September 11th made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come, not from each other or other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.

We know that the terrorists and some of those who support them seek the ability to deliver death and destruction to our doorstep via missile. And we must have the freedom and the flexibility to develop effective defenses against those attacks. Defending the American people is my highest priority as commander-in-chief, and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses.

At the same time, the United States and Russia have developed a new, much more hopeful and constructive relationship. We're moving to replace mutually assured destruction with mutual cooperation.

Beginning in Ljubljana and continuing in meetings in Genoa, Shanghai, Washington and Crawford, President Putin and I developed common ground for a new strategic relationship. Russia is in the midst of a transition to free markets and democracy.

We are committed to forging strong economic ties between Russia and the United States and new bonds between Russia and our partners in NATO. NATO has made clear its desire to identify and pursue opportunities for joint action, ACT 20 (ph).

I look forward to visiting Moscow to continue our discussions as we seek a formal way to express a new strategic relationship that will last long beyond our individual administrations, providing a foundation for peace for the years to come.

We're already working closely together as the world rallies in the war against terrorism. I appreciate so much President Putin's important advice and cooperation, as we fight to dismantle Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan.

I appreciate his commitment to reduce Russia's offensive nuclear weapons. I reiterate our pledge to reduce our own nuclear arsenal, between 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons. President Putin and I have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not, in any way, undermine our new relationship or Russian security.

As President Putin said in Crawford, we are on the path to a fundamentally different relationship. The Cold War is long gone. Today, we leave behind one of its last vestiges. But this is not a day for looking back. This is a day for looking forward with hope and anticipation of greater prosperity and peace for Russians, for Americans, and for the entire world.

Thank you.

ZAHN: Obviously not going to take any questions today, but confirming what he told congressional members yesterday, that the United States will unilaterally withdraw from the ABM Treaty, what he calls a relic of the Cold War.

I want to check in with John King right now to talk a little bit about the ramifications of this decision.

John, I know you have been reporting about some of the harsh criticism the congressional Democrats have already sent the president's way, Sen. Biden calling this idea out of whack, saying Americans should be more concerned about terrorists using mass destruction than countries using long-range missiles. How does the administration counter that charge?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The administration counters that charge by saying candidate Bush promised he would do this. President Bush is keeping a long-term promise to do so and that he does so at least with an acceptance by the Russian president that he was going to do this.

Make no mistake about it, Russia will protest this decision, say the United States is acting unilaterally, that it should negotiate this, not act on its own. But the Bush administration message to its critics in Congress is that the president has consistently said this is what he is go do, and that, yes, there are some who doubt whether anyone has the long-range missile capability to strike the United States now with such a weapon.

Mr. Bush said that should not be his concern; his concern is not today or tomorrow, his concern is 5, 10, 15 years from now and that the United States must go ahead with the testing. A missile defense will take years to develop. Some question the very technology the administration wants to test. But to conduct the most specific tests the administration now says are necessary, it would violate this treaty.

So the president is starting this clock today; six months from now, the United States will no longer be a member of what many consider the cornerstone arms control agreement of the Cold War.

ZAHN: But John, what about the other charge coming from Democrats, that this in and of itself could lead to an arms buildup, not just in Russia, but in Pakistan and India as well?

KING: That will a diplomatic challenge for the administration. The focus now is on the war on terrorism. The administration had been moving closer to India. Now a close to Pakistan, trying to keep the Indian government at ease about the new relationship with Pakistan -- it's a challenge. The administration has put both countries on notice that it does not want them at all to increase their nuclear program, but, in fact, to decrease. Some question what will China say about this? Will the Chinese go further ahead? They have been dramatically accelerating their own nuclear program anyway. Will they take this as a green light to go even further?

So this will present a diplomatic challenge to the administration when it comes to proliferation, the president himself noting that President Putin has assured him that yes, Russia disagrees with this, but it will not undermine the overall relationship. But as you noted, there will be challenges, both in Central Asia and China.

ZAHN: And Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle took it a step further along the lines of what you are saying, the diplomatic challenges. He says that he thinks it is going to undermine the very fragile coalition that America has now with some of its allies that are engaged in this war on terrorism. KING: Certainly, President Putin would be the key player there, and he assured Mr. Bush that will not happen. Many European countries are concerned the president is acting alone here, but they will take their cues from Moscow's reaction. If President Putin says disagrees with this, but Mr. Bush is still welcome to come to Russia early next year; then the European allies will likely say, as well, that they are concerned, but the president has said consistently he was going to do this and he would deal with the reaction. And you saw the very blunt announcement a few moments ago.

ZAHN: John, let's move on to the Osama bin Laden tapes. I thought you appropriately used some humor earlier this morning when you said it was this time yesterday where you and everybody else reported the tapes would be released yesterday afternoon. We heard at first today at 11:00, now 12:00. What's the holdup?

KING: The holdup has been in the translation. We are told by senior administration officials that that process is just about done and now they are simply working on the logistics. I spoke to several senior officials just a few moments ago who assured me this tape would be released by early afternoon. They say the Pentagon is moving as quickly as possible. This time they are not saying with any hesitation or a caution. They are saying it will be released by early afternoon. I hope I am not out here tomorrow telling you we are still waiting.

ZAHN: I hope you're not either, for your sake and all of ours. Good luck, John, thanks for the update. We will wait alongside you.

And when the tape surfaces at the Pentagon, we will be sharing it with you live.

Let's go back to Bill Hemmer, who is standing by to give us more details on the announcement the president just made.

We should thank everybody for joining us early on this morning.

It's all yours, Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Paula, thanks. See you again, tomorrow, on Friday -- Friday's good, Paula.

Good morning, everyone. Let's continue the discussion about what just happened in the Rose Garden of the White House. Russia has made its intent quite clear on this issue. Despite pleas from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the United States is continuing along the path to build that missile defense system. Vladimir Putin and many people in Russia signal they just, frankly, don't have the money to build a similar system, and they don't have the technology that has have been developed in the United States as well.

Further east, John King talked about China. They have concerns as well, strictly because they do not nearly have the number of long- range missiles in their supply and their stock.

With that as backdrop, to Moscow, our bureau chief Jill Dougherty now, joining us live from the Russian capital.

What is the anticipated reaction there -- Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Bill, there hasn't been any official reaction, but what we're expecting and what we have been hearing from other officials is a calm reaction. This was not unexpected, and the Russians know that the United States does have the legal right to get out of this agreement if it wants to.

But also, no one here really, although you hear it from the military people saying, don't worry, we have the missiles and rockets, and they cannot be overcome by this system that the United States wants to build, but on the other hand, nobody here really thinks realistically that the United States would target Russia or that it would compromise in any way the security of Russia.

Essentially, what's going on with Moscow's approach is they feel that it was a cornerstone, the ABM Treaty was a cornerstone of nuclear security and stability in the world. They argued that once you again to pull that away, you call into question a lot other agreements that were signed between the United States and Russia, and also, they would argue, give a bad example to countries that are developing potential or have a beginning potential, like India, Pakistan, to do what they want to do. If they did not want to stay in an agreement, perhaps they would be able to pull out of it.

But there is also, Bill, another level here, and that's kind of the emotional level. Even though President Bush said that this is not going to in any way ruin or hurt, undermine, the new relationship with Russia after the anti-terrorist coalition, the mood here is that it could because, after all, they believed that there was some progress, that the countries were coming together, and perhaps President Putin was making his voice be heard.

Now the United States is going to go ahead with this unilaterally, and there is a certain amount of hurt here among the Russians for that unilateral approach by the United States -- Bill.

HEMMER: Jill, quickly, from an insider's perspective, has the relationship of President Bush with Vladimir Putin helped smooth the road at all on this issue?

DOUGHERTY: One would have to think so, Bill, because after all, they have been meeting quite a bit recently, and they have been talking about this issue. This did not come as a big surprise to Russia. And if they understand each other, where they are headed with this, then that would help very much, because, after all, President Putin has been leading his own people into more of a pro-Western stance. And that understanding has been crucial in doing that.

HEMMER: Got it, Jill, thanks. Jill Dougherty, in Moscow.