Bush Wants ABM Treaty to Be `Set Aside'

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BRUSSELS - President Bush yesterday told world leaders gathered at a NATO summit that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed at the height of the Cold War must be "set aside" in order for the United States to move ahead with development of a missile defense shield.

The president strongly defended the shield, which has suffered several embarrassing test failures and fierce opposition from European leaders, and said his administration would not move ahead until the system was fully and reliably deployable.

"Before we can lay out a specific case . . . it's necessary to set aside the ABM Treaty so we can fully explore all options available to the United States and our allies and friends. The ABM Treaty prevents full exploration of opportunity," Mr. Bush said in a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.

"And for those who suggest my administration will deploy a system that doesn't work are dead wrong. Of course, we're not going to deploy a system that doesn't work. What good will that do? We'll only deploy a system that does work in order to keep the peace. But we must have the flexibility and opportunity to explore all options," the president said.

In other NATO developments, Mr. Bush:

cAssured U.S. allies that "we will move to reduce our offensive weapons to a level commensurate with keeping the peace."

cSupported expansion of the 19-member organization, despite Russia's opposition to adding countries near its borders.

cPledged not to unilaterally withdraw troops from the Balkans, as he had said during last year's campaign.

cEndorsed further political efforts to seek an end to strife in Macedonia, torn by ethnic fighting since February and now held together by a fragile truce.

NATO leaders yesterday demanded tougher action to halt a slide toward civil war in Macedonia.

Much of the day was spent discussing events in the Balkans. French President Jacques Chirac said the alliance must prepare for the possibility of a third military intervention there.

Urging NATO leaders not to allow a new cycle of warfare and instability to break out in the region, Mr. Chirac said: "We must not preclude any form of action needed to thwart such developments."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed. "We are very concerned about the situation in Macedonia," he said.

"Our history of engagement in that part of the world has taught us that it is better to make preparations soon and stabilize the situation, rather than to wait and let the situation deteriorate," Mr. Blair said.

However, Mr. Bush and other NATO leaders stressed that diplomatic intervention - and not military action -was needed now to resolve the ethnic turmoil in Macedonia.

"We agreed that we must face down extremists in Macedonia and elsewhere who seek to use violence to redraw borders or subvert the democratic process," he said. "But the sentiment I heard here was that there is still a possibility for a political settlement, a good possibility, and that we must work to achieve that settlement."

Mr. Bush also reiterated his pledge not to pull more than 9,000 U.S. troops out of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, a reversal of his promise last year during the election campaign. Of the European troops still in the region, he said, "We came in together, and we will leave together. …