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Wednesday, May 30, 2001, updated at 08:30(GMT+8)

NATO Refrains from Backing US Missile Defense Plan

NATO foreign ministers decided not to back the US missile defense plan, while agreeing to continue consultations with Washington on the issue.

The final statement by the council of NATO foreign ministers, the decision-making body of the western military alliance, at its meeting here said the NATO allies welcomed consultations initiated by US President George W. Bush on the American strategic review, including missile defense.

Although US Secretary of State Colin Powell hoped to persuade skeptical European allies to be more supportive of the US missile defense plan, the US approach met resistance from France and Germany at the meeting of the council of NATO foreign ministers in Budapest, capital of Hungary.

The French and German foreign ministers resisted the stronger language proposed by Powell to be used in the final statement, according to sources close to the council meeting.

"We intend to pursue these consultations vigorously, and welcome the United States' assurance that the views of allies will be taken into account as it considers its plans further," said the statement released after the first day of the two-day council meeting.

Powell, however, managed to persuade the European allies to omit from the joint statement any mention of the 1972 anti- ballistic missile treaty that was signed between the United States and the then Soviet Union to put a brake to the arms race.

The NATO joint statement signed in 2000 described the 1972 treaty as "the cornerstone for strategic stability."

The Bush administration wants to scrap or at least heavily modify the treaty, which is said to stand in the way of the planned US missile defense development.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said it was still at the beginning of the consultation process and it would be unwise to rush to a hasty conclusion with an agreement among NATO allies to support the U.S. plan.

German Joschka Fischer also said that no decisions should be made on the missile defense issue until further consultations have occurred. A U.S. missile defense plan must not lead to another round of arms races and has to add to the common security and stability of NATO allies, he added.

The Bush administration sent out earlier this month several military expert groups to lobby the European NATO members about the missile defense plan.

The rounding of European support for the U.S. plan is expected when Bush attends an informal NATO summit slated for June 13 in Brussels before he attends a planned EU-U.S. summit in Gothenburg in the course of the EU (European Union) summit in the Swedish city.

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NATO foreign ministers decided not to back the US missile defense plan, while agreeing to continue consultations with Washington on the issue.

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