News

October 14, 1999

PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT


                              THE WHITE HOUSE
                       Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release                              October 14, 1999

                     PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT

                               The East Room
2:04 P.M.



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     Q    Yes, sir. I was wondering if you have any plans to protect the
ABM Treaty, which will almost certainly be the next target of the Senate
Republicans, looking to start Star Wars?
     THE PRESIDENT:  As you have -- all of you have reported this, we have
continued to work on missile defense.  We spend quite a good deal of money
on it.  Some preliminary tests are encouraging.  If we have the potential
to protect our people against missiles that could be loaded with nuclear
weapons or chemical or biological weapons, coming at us from other
countries -- and this does not include the Russians with whom we have this
ABM Treaty, but all of these other countries that are trying to get missile
technology -- and it would be the responsible thing to try to deploy such a
system.
     The problem is, any such system, even a ground-based one, would
violate the literal terms of the ABM Treaty.  Now, there are -- as you've
said, Mary, there are people in the United States Congress who would like
to just tear up the ABM Treaty and go on.  I, personally, think that would
be a terrible mistake.  Look, we are -- for all of our ups and downs and
rough edges, we are working with the Russians, and we have made real
progress in reducing threats as a result of it.  And let me just tick off a
few things:  they continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals; if they ratify
START II, we'll take our nuclear arsenals to 80 percent below their Cold
War high.  We're prepared to go into  START III negotiations with them if
we do.  They've also taken their troops out of the Baltics, and they've
gotten nuclear weapons out of all those other former Soviet republics.
     We're getting something out of this, this partnership.  And we, I
think, would be very foolish to just discard the ABM treaty.
     So what we're trying to do is see whether or not we can work with the
Russians in a way that enhances their security and ours, to share some of
the benefits of these developments and to go forward in a way that
convinces them that they're not the problem.  We're also trying to do other
things to minimize the problem -- as you know, we've been working very hard
with North Korea to try to end the missile program there.
     So I do not want to throw the ABM treaty away.  I do think it is the
responsible thing to do to continue to pursue what appears to be far more
promising than many had thought -- including me a few years ago -- in terms
of missile defense.  But we have to try to work the two things out
together.  And I'm confident that if the Russians believe it is in their
security interest to do so, that we can.  And that will happen if we work
with them.  If we just scrap the ABM treaty, it won't happen, and our
insecurity will increase.


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                                 END                  3:04 P.M. EDT