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Bush Scraps New NATO A-Arms : Changes in Soviet Bloc Get Credit

From Reuters

President Bush, citing revolutionary changes sweeping the Soviet Bloc, said today that the United States has scrapped plans to modernize NATO’s short-range nuclear missiles and nuclear artillery in Europe.

Bush also called for a summit meeting of NATO countries in late June or early July to review the alliance’s strategy in light of the historic changes in Eastern Europe.

He said the nations at the summit should agree on broad objectives for future negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union aimed at eliminating all short-range nuclear arms in Europe.

During a wide-ranging news conference, Bush said there is less need for short-range nuclear weapons because of the reduction of East-West tensions.

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“In response to these new conditions, I’ve decided to terminate the follow-on to the Lance program and cancel any further modernization of U.S. nuclear artillery shells deployed in Europe,” he said, referring to a replacement program for 88 aging Lance missile launchers.

Most of the Lance systems are based in West Germany and are capable only of hitting targets in East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia--countries no longer part of the Soviet empire.

The decision amounted to recognition that it is politically impossible to deploy new ground-based nuclear weapons with ranges of fewer than 300 miles.

Talks on short-range nuclear arms, which Washington previously opposed, should begin shortly after a treaty reducing U.S. and Soviet conventional forces has been signed, Bush said.

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Bush said his plan to forgo the updating of short-range nuclear weapons had been outlined privately to NATO foreign ministers by Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Baker met his allied counterparts in Brussels earlier today during a diplomatic mission to Western Europe.

In addition to the 88 Lance missile launchers, there are about 2,000 nuclear artillery shells in Western Europe, most of them in West Germany.

The gesture seemed an attempt to assure the Soviet Union that a united Germany would not represent a threat to Moscow if it is a member of NATO, an arrangement the Western allies want and Moscow opposes.

On other issues discussed at the 40-minute question-and-answer session, Bush said:

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--That he worries sometimes that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev might be ousted by forces opposed to his political and economic reform program.

--That last month’s abduction of a Mexican doctor who was subsequently spirited to the United States to stand trial on charges of involvement in the torture-murder of a U.S. drug agent arose from a “misunderstanding.”

“There was some misunderstanding here. And I have told our key people, ‘Eliminate the misunderstanding.’ We don’t want misunderstanding with Mexico. We don’t need it. We need continued cooperation,” Bush said.

--That he had no apologies for his reluctance to punish China for its repression of pro-democracy forces. Bush added that he was “disappointed” by China’s response but maintained that a relationship has to be preserved.

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