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With America's most awesome weapon of mass destruction as his backdrop, President Bush urged Congress Friday to resist a "fire sale" of defense capabilities in the rush to exact a peace dividend from the demise of the Cold War.

At Warren Air Force Base, home of the nation's MX missile force, Bush bowed to compromise in asking Congress to "hold the line" against cutting his 1991 military budget beyond the "already painful" 6 percent voted by the Senate Armed Services Committee.While assuring Congress the Pentagon "will contribute its share" to deficit reduction, he also asked for more flexibility to decide where the cutbacks will come in the transition to a smaller post-Cold War force structure.

"We must have an orderly build-down, not some kind of a fire sale," Bush declared.

Speaking to members of the 90th Strategic Missile Wing, he underscored the need to protect "the bedrock of the military: highly trained, highly motivated and exceptionally dedicated men and women, people like you."

His appeal still faces rough sledding on Capitol Hill, however, where the House Armed Services Committee is expected to vote $6 billion more in cuts than its Senate counterpart in Bush's $307 billion military budget.

Two weeks after NATO, the guarantor of Western security for more than 40 years, declared peace with the Warsaw Pact, Bush visited Warren to reinforce a warning that the close of the Cold War does not erase the threat of nuclear competition or confrontation.

Already in Wyoming for a rain-dampened parade marking the state centennial and a few hours of fishing, Bush sandwiched in the visit to Warren at a time when the MX is under fire for its cost and possible obsolescence.