Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Calls ABM 'Relic of the Past'

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Making his NATO debut, U.S. President George W. Bush urged the allies on Wednesday to "extend our hands and open our hearts" to former Soviet bloc nations that aspire to join their alliance.

Without referring explicitly to perhaps the most sensitive topic on the agenda — his plan for a missile defense — Bush sounded the theme that undergirds his approach to U.S. and transatlantic security. "We must strengthen our alliance, modernize our forces and prepare for new threats," he said.

Some of the allies disagree with Bush's view that they all face a growing threat of missile attack.

"The question of technical feasibility and the consequences for nonproliferation treaties remain," said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "Russia and China need to be involved."

French President Jacques Chirac said the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, under which the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to manage the nuclear threat by leaving themselves vulnerable to missile attack, is "a pillar" of global security. He called for stepping up anti-proliferation efforts "irrespective of action taken regarding the anti-missile project."

Bush spoke at the opening session of NATO's first summit meeting since April 1999, when the 19 leaders met in Washington to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the alliance's founding at the outset of the Cold War. He is on a one-week tour of Europe to build support for his defense proposal. The trip cumulates Saturday with his first face-to-face meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Slovenia.

Bush on Wednesday touched on the sensitive subject of expanding NATO, which just two years ago added new members Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. He did not mention any candidate countries by name, but made clear he believes NATO should keep its door open to democracies.

Bush's plans for a missile defense system, NATO expansion and a fledgling European defense force headed the agenda at the NATO meeting. He intended to explain the reasoning behind his push to discard the ABM Treaty.

Bush's plans have encountered stiff resistance, though aides expressed confidence that his views would receive backing from some European nations, such as Hungary, Poland, Italy and Spain.

Bush issued his strongest statement to date against the ABM Treaty on Tuesday in Madrid, Spain, where he opened his European tour.

"The ABM Treaty is a relic of the past. It prevents freedom-loving people from exploring the future, and that's why we've got to lay it aside," he said.

Bush defended his stance on the eve of his trip Monday, saying, "President Putin himself talked about the need for freedom-loving countries to develop systems that have got the capacity to say no to that rogue leader."

As a side note, Bush said U.S. aid to Russia might be affected by decisions the country makes. "I will make it clear that when Russia makes the right choices U.S. capital will be more likely to flow into Russia," he said.

Laying groundwork for the Bush-Putin session, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met Friday at NATO headquarters for 1 1/2 hours. They agreed both their countries face serious new threats, but they disagreed on how best to defend against them.