BUDAPEST, Hungary -- NATO's top policy-making body stopped far short of endorsing the Bush administration's plan for a national missile defense Tuesday, preparing to offer only to "continue substantive consultations" with Washington.
A joint statement issued by the North Atlantic Council does not portray the possibility of missile attack as a common threat faced by allies, as the Bush administration had hoped.
Secretary of State Colin Powell had hoped to persuade skeptical NATO allies to be more supportive of U.S. plans for a missile defense.
But, according to sources close to the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity, France and Germany resisted stronger language sought by Powell.
The final statement said NATO allies "welcome the consultations initiated by President Bush on the U.S. strategic review, including missile defense."
"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."
In a minor victory, Powell persuaded NATO foreign ministers to omit from the joint statement any mention of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Last year's joint statement called the treaty "the cornerstone of strategic stability."
The Bush administration wants to scrap or heavily modify the treaty, which prohibits development of national missile defense systems.
The statement was issued by the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's top policy-making board, which is made up of foreign ministers of the 19 NATO nations.
In addition to presenting U.S. views on missile defense, Powell also sought to assure allies that the United States would not pull its peacekeeping forces out of the Balkans, despite comments by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggesting the U.S. role in Bosnia was near an end.
Tuesday's final statement said it was "not advisable at this time to consider major restructuring or reductions" in the peacekeeping force in Bosnia, other than "a moderate reduction in overall troop level."
"The job is not yet completed," NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson told reporters.
U.S. officials had worked behind the scenes for a joint statement that would cite a "common threat" of missile attack in a section referring to the U.S. missile defense plan.
That would be stronger than the phrase "potential threat" that was in a year-earlier statement.
But the United States failed to get the stronger language included.
Instead, NATO allies promise to consider "appropriate assessment of threats and address the full range of strategic issues affecting our common security, and the means to address them."
In the statement, the allies pledge to "continue substantive consultations in the alliance on these issues."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said it was important that no decisions be made on the missile defense issue until further consultations have occurred.
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