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Bush: Missile shield fears 'allayed'

bush at NATO news conference
Bush predicted that NATO will "extend our hands and open our hearts" to former communist states  

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- U.S. President George W. Bush says he is encouraged by the response of European allies to his position on missile defence.

In his first NATO session Bush confronted the scepticism some European leaders have been voicing over Washington's plans despite his insistence that the alliance must "prepare for new threats."

"There is some nervousness," he acknowledged. "I understand that, but it's beginning to be allayed when they hear the logic behind the rationale."

Bush, who is in Belgium on the second-leg of his five day European tour, addressed the 19 world leaders attending an informal summit at NATO's headquarters on Wednesday.

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The president, who is trying to win support from U.S. allies during his trip, praised NATO's work in defeating communism and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

But he added: "We must strengthen our alliance, modernise our forces and prepare for new threats.

"Now we have a great opportunity to build a Europe whole, free and at peace, with this grand alliance of liberty at its very core."

He said the U.S. administration was not asking its allies to sign up to anything specific, but was asking for a change in thinking on where new threats came from.

He said the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was now "a relic" and that the Cold War "had to be abandoned."

He said the U.S. would collaborate with its allies as well as Russia in developing a missile defence scheme.

But Kremlin officials poured cold water on attempts to foster a new period of détente.

Just three days before a Russian-U.S. summit, Kremlin officials insisted on Wednesday that Bush's missile defence plan posed a threat to global security and said other options should be considered.

Igor Sergeyev, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Moscow was still determined to retain the ABM treaty and that Russia's position was "categorical and unchanged."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told the summit that important questions about the technical feasibility of the plan remained.

French President Jacques Chirac said the ABM treaty, which outlaws national missile defence, was a "pillar" of global security.

Bush and Robertson
Bush, right, is greeted by NATO Secretary General George Robertson  

He called for an increase in efforts to stop the spread of ballistic missiles "irrespective of action taken regarding the anti-missile project."

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said his colleagues welcomed the "important opportunity" to question Bush on missile defence.

Lord Robertson added: "NATO is embarking now on a major thinking process about the challenges we face and the best means of addressing them. These consultations will continue and they will deepen."

Some NATO allies do agree with the United States on many points. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit of Turkey, the only NATO member that borders on one of the "rogue nations," said missile defence should be developed in a "positive spirit."

President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, one of NATO's newest members, called missile defence "visionary, courageous and a logical idea."

Other issues on the agenda were NATO enlargement, a European rapid reaction force and the fighting in Macedonia.

Bush said a "hand of welcome" and "an open heart" had to be extended to new NATO members "to build security for all of Europe."

A European rapid reaction force would provide "more options," stepping in where NATO decided not to get involved.

He also pledged to keep U.S. forces in the Balkans while NATO had a part to play in the area.

Greens' protest

Bush had earlier faced opposition outside the NATO headquarters from Greenpeace activists complaining about the missile defence plan and the president's policy towards the 1997 Kyoto treaty.

About 300 demonstrators had gathered behind police barricades about 100 metres from the entrance, holding banners which said "Save the climate, Stop Star Wars."

A further group protested at the Melsbroek military airbase where Bush flew in, with 17 arrested, Greenpeace said.

Bush is set to fly on to Sweden, Poland, and Slovenia, where he will meet with President Putin.

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