Democrats 'Disturbed' by Bush Policy on Nuclear Arms
Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Leading Democrats on Capitol Hill have expressed serious concern about a classified White House document allowing the use of nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological weapons attack, which was disclosed by The Washington Times.
Citing the Times article, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said in a letter to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the document "appears to be a fundamental change in the U.S. nuclear policy by explicitly stating that nuclear weapons may be used by the United States to respond to a possible chemical or biological weapons attack."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts yesterday said the Bush administration may be lowering the threshold for use of nuclear weapons.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he grilled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in a war with Iraq. Mr. Kennedy said such a move would trigger "a near-total breakdown" in Washington's relations with the rest of the world.
While questioning Mr. Rumsfeld, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan noted the administration's request in the 2004 budget for funds to study nuclear weapons that could be used against deeply buried targets.
"If the United States sends signals that we are considering new uses for nuclear weapons, isn't it more likely that other nations will also want to explore greater use or new uses for nuclear weapons?" Mr. Levin asked.
Congressional sources said yesterday that a joint letter to the White House about the nuclear issue by Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Kennedy is in the works. The two Democratic senators will try to get more of their colleagues to sign it, and its release could take some time, the sources said.
In her letter dated Feb. 4, Mrs. Feinstein wrote of her "deep disturbance" about the classified document, National Security Presidential Directive 17 (NSPD 17), signed by President Bush on Sept. 14.
The document, a copy of which was shown to The Times, states: "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force - including potentially nuclear weapons - to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."
That statement seems to contradict the decades-long U. …