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Condoleeza Rice is national security advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush. In Washington, she spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Oct. 25. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet next month at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

NATHAN GARDELS: Is the U.S. missile shield a higher or lower priority after the terror attacks of Sept. 11? After all, it would have done nothing to stop planes hitting buildings or the spread of anthrax.

CONDOLEEZA RICE: It is an even higher priority. If we were dealing with state-sponsored terrorists in a state that had weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them by ballistic missiles, that would be a really terrible scenario. If we were facing an Afghanistan Taliban government that had ballistic-missile technology, it would be a very different world.

We have tended to think of terrorists as floating free in international politics. But many of them are actually sponsored by or harbored by states. So to the degree that the technology falls into the hands of states that sponsor terrorism, you also have a problem.

So, the president feels even more strongly that, given the uncertainty and character of the new threats we are facing, he has a responsibility to explore the technologies that might be feasible to help us face any ballistic-missile threat.

We know already that the proliferation of ballistic-missile technology is gaining momentum. It is potentially much more ubiquitous thanks to a place like North Korea that has turned itself into a bazaar for missile technology. Pretty soon you have the worst of all circumstances: some terrorists who have not just the will to strike America, but also the technology, and who are prepared to use it.

One of the things that concerns us is that, when you look at Al Qaeda, they are not deterrable in the traditional sense.

Of course, it has never been the case that you ignore one threat to deal with another. But while we are dealing with the low-technology ways that terrorists or state-sponsored terrorists might act, it is also necessary to prepare against the potential of higher technology threats.

GARDELS: Presumably President Bush communicated this new sense of urgency to Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin when he met them in Shanghai last week. Were they more sympathetic on this issue than in the past?

RICE: It was indeed communicated to them. With President Putin we had quite an extensive discussion. While the Russians continue to say that the ABM treaty is an element of a stable security environment, increasingly President Putin has been acknowledging, going back to the first meeting in Slovenia, that there are new threats that need to be dealt with. He said that again in Shanghai.

The president raised this issue with Jiang Zemin only in the context of wanting to make the Asia-Pacific region more stable. We intend to have more discussions with them. We've not really had a chance to engage the Chinese yet at the level we'd like.
GARDELS: So, Putin would then agree to amending the ABM Treaty?

RICE: I can't speak for the Russians. What I can say is that Presidents Bush and Putin have made a lot of progress in understanding each other better and recognizing that we already have a new relationship that requires security vehicles more appropriate to the threats of the 21st century than the threats of 1972.

If anything, Sept. 11 really underscored that. We are going to work on that basis to find a way to move forward. It was President Putin who said they had substantial areas of agreement with us. We'll see.

GARDELS: When Putin and Bush meet in Crawford, are we more likely to see an agreement on radical reduction of warheads than on the ABM?

RICE: I don't know. We have said all along that we are looking for a new strategic framework. That framework has two elements -- first, that it can accommodate defenses, which the old framework of mutually assured destruction did not; and second, that we want America's strategic nuclear forces brought down to a level consistent with the demands of deterrence in today's world.

Our study on U.S. nuclear force posture is nearing conclusion,
and, pretty soon, President Bush will be able to tell President Putin and the rest of the world what he thinks the appropriate levels will be for American nuclear forces in the future.

GARDELS: And on amending or breaching ABM, the United States will go ahead as it sees fit?

RICE: Going back to the meeting with President Putin in Slovenia, President Bush has been saying that we believe we need a testing program not constrained by the ABM treaty; we really need to get up and running the most effective system as soon as possible. We are not prepared to allow our missile defense program to be constrained by a treaty we consider outmoded.

As I said, after Sept. 11, the president sees development of missile defense as an even higher priority. We have to get to the point as soon as we can where we can explore the technological possibilities.

GARDELS: One outcome of Sept. 11 seems to have been a healing of the strategic rift that was developing between the United States and Europe over issues from the missile shield to the Kyoto Treaty. Do you see it that way? How does it affect European reticence on dropping the ABM treaty?

RICE: Sept. 11 has created a renewed sense of strategic purpose and common interest between the United States and Europe. And it is more than Europe -- the Russians are part of that and the Chinese.

But it is particularly true within the NATO alliance. It was remarkable when NATO said, for the first time in its history, that "an attack against one is an attack against all.''

We had had a series of difficult policy debates with Europe, for example, over global climate change. What often got obscured were the strong common values that united us. We have now refocused on those values since Sept. 11.

How will that play in the ABM-ballistic missile defense debate? I don't know. Even well before Sept. 11, Europeans were beginning to accept the intellectual argument that today's threats are different than during the Cold War. While there was a lot of worry about how the transition from the old to the new security environment might take place, there was already growing acceptance that it was time to start making that transition. If anything, Sept. 11 has strengthened that view.

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 10/25/01)