02 March 1999
RICHARDSON SAYS SENATE PASSAGE OF CTBT "CRITICALLY IMPORTANT"(Cites DOE efforts in energy and non-proliferation efforts) (830) By Susan Ellis USIA Staff Writer Washington -- Achieving Senate passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a priority for the Clinton Administration, says Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Bill Richardson. Speaking to the National Press Club March 2, he said CTBT "is an issue where the whole cabinet is going to be deployed" to urge ratification. "I believe that if this bill is allowed on the floor of the Senate, we can get the votes. We are building support," Richardson said, adding that he gives odds of "better than 50-50" for passage. "There's going to be a very, very active concerted effort. This is an issue where the whole cabinet is going to be deployed," he continued. "I believe if we're going to encourage India and Pakistan to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, if we are going to participate in an upcoming meeting where we engage in strategy to improve nuclear safety and other ways to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, it is critically important that we pass CTBT this year." On the subject of Russia, Richardson was asked where the money would come from for programs DOE is conducting to upgrade that country's nuclear weapons accounting system and to employ Russian scientists at home in non-weapons capacities to keep them "from selling out to rogue nations." He responded that Congress must "realize that this is not Russian foreign aid....These are programs in our national security." Richardson said the President has asked for $525 million over the next four years for the Russian programs, adding he believes Congress "will respond positively," although "there are those critics who don't want to invest in this potentially most urgent national security threat that we have." Asked whether Russia's vast nuclear stockpile, "powerful presence of organized crime," and backwardness on preparations to avert Year 2000 computer problems are not "becoming a recipe for a terrorist disaster," Richardson countered that he has asked the appropriations committees in Congress to "reprogram some funds to deal with the Russian Y2K problem." "There is a problem in their reactors and potentially at some of their weapons sites," he acknowledged, saying he is "challenging Congress" to grant about $15 million to rectify the problems. Although Congress has not yet responded, Richardson said he hopes to have a good response in the days ahead. In terms of chemical-biological defense efforts, he said a $32 million request strikes him "as a good investment." For DOE's national laboratories, Richardson said he has asked for two things: "that we have a joint national center among our labs to improve response and detection; and most important, to come up with some timelines that are useful for probably the next huge event on our shores that involves potential threats and that's the Olympics." Of his recent meeting with Venezuela's new minister of energy and mines, Ali Rodriguez-Araque, Richardson said the United States wants to expand its energy ties with Venezuela. "We think that Venezuela is a leader. They are our "number one" or "number two" provider of oil -- it's either them or Saudi Arabia, it depends. Every month it changes," he said, adding, "We want to have Venezuela respect the sanctity of our contracts (in that country). We want Venezuela to keep the opening for American and foreign investment in Venezuela in the energy sector. We think that's been a good policy and we see no reason why this policy won't be continued." He added, "What we want to do with Venezuela is develop markets for our independents in the gas area, and in other energy and technology arenas. But Venezuela and the United States right now, and Mexico, will soon be working together to develop a hemispheric energy meeting, to talk about energy cooperation and also climate change." Richardson harked back to his previous post as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to answer a charge that the UN weapons inspections in Iraq had failed. He said UNSCOM has not failed. "Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, the UN inspectors, UNSCOM, have destroyed over 60,000 weapons of mass destruction. The capability of Saddam Hussein in that area has been contained. But he remains a threat. "The United States is not going to lift sanctions; we're going to continue a policy of containing him (Saddam Hussein). I recently read that he is now considering cooperating with the United Nations again on the inspections. That remains to be seen; his word has not been good. But look at where we are now. We have effectively contained him; we have used force where necessary to send that message. A lot of his infrastructure has been hurt or destroyed. He is a pariah in the region. I think our policy has worked."