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07 October 1999

 
  

Transcript: Clinton Remarks and Q&A on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

(Challenges Senate to do what is right and ratify the treaty) (3570)

President Clinton, for the third day in a row, urged the U.S. Senate
to do what is right for the nation and the world and ratify the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that bans all underground nuclear
testing.

Speaking October 7 on the South Lawn of the White House, surrounded by
religious and political supporters of the treaty, Clinton said "This
is a time to come together and do what is plainly in the best
interests of our country by embracing a treaty that requires other
nations to do what we have already decided to do ourselves, a treaty
that will freeze the development of nuclear weapons around the world
at a time when we enjoy an overwhelming advantage in military might
and technology.

"So I say to the Senate today, whatever political commitments you may
have made, stop, listen, think about the implications of this for our
children's future. You have heard from the military; I hope you will
listen to them. You have heard from Nobel Laureates and other experts
in nuclear weapons; I hope you will listen to them.

"You listened to our military and scientific leaders about national
missile defense; listen to them about the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty. Listen to the religious leaders, who say it is the right thing
to do. Listen to our allies, including nuclear powers Britain and
France, who say America must continue to lead. And listen to the
American people, who have been for this treaty from the very
beginning.

"And ask yourselves, do you really want to leave our children a world
in which every nation has a green light to test, develop and deploy
nuclear weapons, or a world in which we have done everything we
possibly can to minimize the risks nuclear weapons pose to our
children? To ratify this treaty is to answer the question right and
embrace our responsibility to future generations."

During a question and answer session that followed his statement, the
President said the issue of arms control is too important for the
United States and the world to be used for political partisan gain by
either side.

"This is bigger than party politics; this is bigger than personal
politics. This is about America's future and the future of our
children in the world," he said.

He indicated he would approve delaying a vote, now scheduled for
October 12, to allow more time for debate on the treaty, if such an
agreement can be worked out among the Senate leadership.

There is "an overwhelming consensus that not enough time has been
allocated to deal with the substantive issues that have to be
discussed," Clinton said.

"There are lots of issues, complex issues," he said, "that serious
people who have questions (about the treaty) have raised, that deserve
to be answered, worked through. And there are plenty of devices to do
that, if there is time to do that."

The White House has had conversations with the leadership in Congress
and with members in both parties about this, said Clinton, and "there
is a chance that they will reach an accord" on delaying a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi,
scheduled the vote only a few days after he put the treaty on the
Senate calendar.

Under the U.S. Constitution, ratification of a treaty requires a
two-thirds vote of the Senate in support of the measure.

Republican opponents of the treaty say the treaty is not verifiable
and that a complete ban on nuclear testing would jeopardize the
American nuclear arsenal's safety and reliability.

Following is the White House transcript:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

October 7, 1999

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT UPON DEPARTURE
AT THE WHITE HOUSE

SOUTH LAWN 11:55 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. All this past week a chorus of voices has
been rising to urge the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty. Yesterday our nation's military leaders and our leading
nuclear experts, including a large number of Nobel Laureates, came
here to say that we can maintain the integrity of our nuclear
stockpile without testing. And that we would be safer with the Test
Ban Treaty.

Today, religious leaders from across the spectrum and across the
nation are urging America to seize the higher ground of leadership to
stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

I want to thank those who are here, including Bishop John Glynn of the
US Catholic Bishop's Conference, Reverend Elenora Gidding-Ivory of the
Presbyterian Church, Reverend Jay Linter of the National Council of
Churches of Christ, Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center of
Reformed Judaism, Bishop Theodore Schneider of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church, Joe Volk of the Friends Committee, Dr. James Dunn;
there are others here as well. And I would like to say a special word
of thanks to Reverend Joan Brown-Campbell of the National Council of
Churches, as she concludes her responsibilities; for all the support
she has given to our Administration over the years.

And let me express my special gratitude to Senator Jim Jeffords from
Vermont and Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota for their presence
here and for their leadership in this cause.

These Americans are telling us that the debate about this treaty
ultimately comes down to a fairly straightforward question; will we do
everything in our power to reduce the likelihood that someday
somewhere nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of someone with
absolutely no compunction about using them? Or will we instead, send a
signal to those who have nuclear weapons or those who want them, that
we won't test but that they can test now or they can test when they
develop or acquire the weapons. We have a moral responsibility to
future generations to answer that question correctly. And future
generations won't forgive us if we fail that responsibility.

We all recognize that no treaty by itself can guarantee our security,
and there is always the possibility of cheating. But this treaty, like
the Chemical Weapons Convention, give us tools to strengthen our
security, a global network of sensors to detect nuclear tests by
others. The right to demand inspections, the means to mobilize the
whole world against potential violators. To throw away these tools
will ensure more testing and more development of more sophisticated
and more dangerous nuclear weapons.

This is a time to come together and do what is plainly in the best
interest of our country by embracing a treaty that requires other
nations to do what we have already decided to do ourselves. A treaty
that will freeze the development of nuclear weapons around the world
at a time when we enjoy an overwhelming advantage in military might
and technology.

So I say to the Senate today whatever political commitments you may
have made, stop, listen, think about the implications of this for our
children's future.

You have heard from the military. I hope you will listen to them. You
have heard from Nobel Laureates and other experts in nuclear weapons.
I hope you listen to them. You listened to our military and scientific
leaders about national missile defense, listen to them about the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Listen to the religious leaders who say
it is the right thing to do. Listen to our allies, including nuclear
powers Britain and France, who say America must continue to lead. And
listen to the American people who have been for this treaty from the
very beginning. And ask yourselves, do you really want to leave our
children a world in which every nation has a green light to test,
develop and deploy nuclear weapons, or a world in which we have done
everything we possibly can to minimize the risks nuclear weapons pose
to our children? To ratify this treaty is to answer the question right
and embrace our responsibility to future generations. Thank you.

Q: If the Patients Bill of Rights fails today will you work with
Republicans to get a more limited measure, or is it going to be your
bill or no bill?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I believe there is a majority of support for the
Norwood-Dingell Bill. And the issue is not my bill or no bill, I'm not
the issue here. I'm covered by the Federal Plan and I have extended by
Executive Order the protections of the Patients Bill of Rights to all
people covered by all Federal plans, including the members of
Congress.

The issue is whether we're going to give the American people adequate
protections. The Norwood-Dingell Bill does that. We've got some
Republican support for it in the House. I think Congressman Norwood,
who has been a loyal Republican in virtually every respect, has shown
a great deal of courage here, along with the doctors in the House, who
know it's the right thing to do. We'll just hope that it works out.
We've worked very hard and they've worked very hard. And I believe we
have an excellent chance to win.

Q: Mr. President, on the treaty, on health care, on tax cuts and even
on budget matters the Republicans up on Capitol Hill seem to be saying
that they do not want to work with you, they would prefer to wait
until another person is in the office. Do you get that impression?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, on tax cuts I vetoed their bill, and it was the
right thing to do. And it's a good thing for America. They are showing
us every day they can't even fund the spending that they've already
voted for, and that they tried to saddle America with another $800
billion worth of spending, and say that somehow they could pay for it.

I think there are some of them who want to be a lame duck Congress.
They're still drawing a paycheck up there, and it's a little larger
than it was before a bill that I signed. And I don't think they ought
to make themselves into a lame duck Congress. I think they ought to
show up for work and we ought to do the people's business. There are
plenty of things we disagree on but we have proved that we can work
together under adverse circumstances.

Does this year look more like 1999 than 1996, 1997 and 1998 -- I mean
more like 1995? It does. It looks more like 1995. And I just don't
think they ought to be a lame duck Congress. I don't think the
American people will understand it if they insist on sitting around up
here for two years and doing nothing.

Now if the Senate doesn't want to work on saving Social Security and
Medicare, and educating our children then maybe they ought to take a
little time and confirm our judges and do some other things. But you
know, I think there are people in the Senate and in the House, on both
sides, who don't want to have a lame duck two years for themselves.
Senator Jeffords is here on this, Congressman Norwood and a number of
other Republicans are helping on the Patients Bill of Rights; and I
think we'll find a way to get some things done.

Q: Would you be mending fences with the Teamsters if it weren't for
the campaigns of the Vice President and Mrs. Clinton?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, absolutely. I'm not mending fences. I would have
accepted this invitation to go to this event tonight under any
circumstances. I have actually enjoyed a fairly constructive
relationship with the Teamsters over six and a half years. I've seen
all those stories and I've been a little amused by them. I don't
understand what the fence mending -- we have a difference of opinion
about an issue or two but I would -- if I had been invited to this
under any circumstances I would certainly have gone.

Q:  Mr. President, any progress on delaying the treaty vote?

Q:  -- for the Vice President.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm sorry, I can't hear. What did you say about the
treaty vote?

Q:  Any progress on delaying the treaty vote?

THE PRESIDENT: I had a dinner here the other night that had
Republicans and Democrats, including Republicans who were on both
sides of the issue. There seems to be, among really thoughtful people
who care about this, an overwhelming consensus that not enough time
has been allocated to deal with the substantive issues that have to be
discussed.

So we have had conversations, obviously, with the leadership and with
members in both parties, and I think there is a chance that they will
reach an accord there.

Q: Governor Bush seems to have taken a page from your history on
triangulation in his dealings with a Republican-led Congress. Do you
have any opinion on that, Sir?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I think the Republican Right is being too
hard on Governor Bush. I mean, you know, I don't understand why
they're being so mean to him about this. He has stuck with him on --
he was for that tax cut that they wanted. His main health care advisor
sponsored that breakfast with the House leadership yesterday designed
to help kill the Patients Bill of Rights. He stuck with them and the
NRA on the gun issue. You know, he's for privatizing Social Security.
I don't see why they're so hard on him. But I will say this, I
personally appreciated what he said.

Raising taxes on poor people is not the way to get out of this bind
we're in. But I think they're being way too hard on him and unfair.

Q: When you talk to Mr. Hoffa about the AFL-CIO endorsement will you
ask him to throw his support behind the Vice President?

THE PRESIDENT: Well I think everybody knows where I am on that. I have
met already with the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO. That is not
the purpose of my going there. They invited me to come by and I was
happy to accept.

Q:  Will you take the opportunity --

THE PRESIDENT: I have already had a meeting with the Executive
Committee -- with all the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO in which
we have discussed that issue among others. Thank you very much.

Q:  What part of the Test Ban -- a follow-up on the Test Ban, Sir?

THE PRESIDENT: You want to ask a Test Ban question?

Q: Yes, just a follow-up. If it looks like you're not going to get the
votes is it better tactically to go down to defeat and blame it on the
Republicans or to just --

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not interested -- that's not the -- that's a game
and that's wrong. I'm not interested in blaming them for this. I think
the members who committed to be against the treaty before they heard
the arguments and studied the issues and listened to the Joint Chiefs
of Staff and the Nobel Laureates made a mistake. I think that was
wrong.

On the other hand, there are lots of issues, complex issues, that
serious people who have questions about it have raised, that deserve
to be answered, worked through. And there are plenty of devices to do
that if there is time to do that. All I ask here is that we do what is
in the National interest. Let's just do what's right for America. I am
not interested in an issue to beat them up about. That would be a
serious mistake. That's not the way for the United States to behave in
the world. But neither should they be interested in an issue that they
can sort of take off the table with a defeat. That would do terrible
damage to the role of the United States which has been, from the time
of President Eisenhower, the leader through Republican and Democratic
Administrations alike, Republican and Democratic Congresses alike,
until this moment we have been the leader in the cause of
nonproliferation.

We should not either try to get an issue that will enable us to beat
up on them, neither should they have an issue that enables them to
show that they can just deep six this treaty. That would be a terrible
mistake. Therefore, we ought to have a regular orderly substantive
process that gives all the people the necessary time to consider this
on the merit and that gives the people who made early commitments, I
think wrongly, but they did it, the chance to move to doing the
Senate's business the way the Senate should do it.

Look at what these people are saying here today. This is huge, this is
bigger than party politics, this is bigger than personal politics,
this is about America's future, and the future of our children and the
world. We have a chance to reduce the likelihood that more countries
will obtain nuclear weapons. We have a chance to reduce the likelihood
that countries that are now working on developing nuclear technologies
will be able to convert them into usable weapons. We have a chance to
reduce the likelihood that countries that now have weapons will be
able to make more advance, more sophisticated and bigger weapons. We
cannot walk away from that and we cannot let it get caught up in the
kind of debate that would be unworthy of the children and
grandchildren of Republicans and Democrats. Thank you.

I would like to ask Senator Jeffords -- let me just give credit where
credit is due. Senator Jeffords got this group together. And when I
heard they were meeting I invited them to come down here to stand with
us. So he deserves the credit for this day and Senator Dorgan has been
perhaps our most vociferous advocate on the Democratic side of this
treaty. So I would like to ask Senator Jeffords to say a few words and
then invite Senator Dorgan to say a few words.

SENATOR JEFFORDS: Thank you, Mr. President. I thank my honored members
of the religious community for the tremendous help they have been to
this cause. And I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to
discuss the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have just heard from
prominent religious leaders that it is imperative that the Senate
ratify this treaty.

They have told us that the issue is a vital matter of religious
consciousness for their communities of faith. I hear the same message
from my constituents. Nuclear proliferation is one of the largest
threats, if not the largest threat, that this nation faces.
Ratification of this treaty will improve our chances of stopping the
spread of nuclear weapons and will strengthen our national security,
not only today but in the future.

We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to add this important
brick to the foundation of international peace. Three years ago 152
nations agreed in principle to forgo nuclear testing, but it will take
leadership to lock up that commitment. The world is looking to the
United States, and this week, to the United States Senate, to show
that leadership. I firmly believe we must seize this moment to ratify
the treaty.

Mr. President, as you know, this is a risky venture. But there is no
absolute guarantee, but I am convinced that what risks there are are
certainly far outweighed by the dangers if we do not ratify. And I
thank you for your leadership. And I would like to also add, I don't
stand alone in the Republican Party as agreeing with this position.
Thank you.

SENATOR DORGAN: Mr. President, thank you for your leadership on this
issue. There are big issues and small issues. We in the Senate spend
the better part of a week some while ago debating whether to rename
National Airport here in Washington, DC. That's a small issue.

A big issue is the issue of whether we should ratify a treaty that
will help stop the spread of nuclear weapons. And without a day of
hearing, after languishing for two years in the Senate, the Majority
Leader abruptly decided ten days hence we would have 14 hours of
debate and make a decision as a country. That is not a responsible way
to handle this issue.

It is unthinkable to me that this country or this United States Senate
would decide that we will not test nuclear weapons, and we made that
decision seven years ago, but we will defeat a treaty, according to
some members of the Senate, that would prevent others from making the
same decision, that would prevent others from conducting nuclear
tests. It is an unthinkable position for me.

As I said, the question for this country is will we exhibit the moral
leadership to decide that we will press the world to stop the spread
of nuclear weapons and to try to prevent the horrors of a nuclear war.
The ratification of this treaty is critical. This country has been a
world leader and to deny this treaty would, in my judgment, deny our
opportunity to make this a safer world for our children and their
children.

THE PRESIDENT: Do you want to ask either one of them any questions?
Thank you very much.

(end transcript)