USIS Washington File

08 October 1999

Key Senators Seek Agreement to Put Off CTBT Ratification Vote

(With passage now unlikely, Clinton joins call for delay) (560)
By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Congressional Correspondent

Washington -- Leading Republican and Democratic senators are looking
for a way to delay -- perhaps for more than a year -- the scheduled
vote on ratifying the controversial Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
signed by President Clinton in 1996.

With proponents and opponents in agreement that the treaty would
surely fall short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification
if the Senate were to proceed October 12 or 13 as planned, Clinton
himself joined the call for delay October 8.
"The level of opposition to the treaty and the time it would take to
craft the necessary safeguards to get the necessary votes are simply
not there," the president said at a news conference in Ottawa, Canada.

As Senate floor debate on the merits of the treaty proceeded October
8, however, it remained unclear how, and indeed whether, the impending
vote could be called off.

The vote was set by "unanimous consent" of the Senate. Opponents of
the treaty, who are eager for a vote, say that such a unanimous
consent action can be reversed only by unanimous consent -- and
several of them say that they would object to pulling the treaty from

Moreover Senate Majority (Republican) Leader Trent Lott, who by virtue
of his position is the key player in scheduling Senate business, has
flatly stated that the vote will proceed.

But Democratic (Minority) Leader Tom Daschle told reporters that, if
all efforts at negotiation fail, Democrats could employ a seldom-used
parliamentary procedure to block Senate consideration of the treaty.
That effort presumably would require only a simple majority -- 51
votes -- to succeed.

Some of the senators seeking a delay say they would like to defer the
issue until 2001, when it would be considered by a new president and a
new Congress.

Most Democrats support the treaty; many Republicans have announced
their opposition.

Chances for the pact to garner the necessary two-thirds majority at
this time -- already slim -- declined further October 7 when Senator
Richard Lugar announced his opposition to the treaty as drafted.

The Indiana Republican, a leading arms control advocate, is widely
respected among his fellow senators on such issues.

Lugar said he does not believe that the CTBT "is of the same caliber
as the arms control treaties that have come before the Senate in
recent decades." He charged that the treaty "is flawed with an
ineffective verification regime and a practically nonexistent
enforcement process."

The CBTB would result in a total ban on nuclear testing, by extending
to underground explosions the existing prohibition on atmospheric

Supporters say the United States has adequate systems to check
compliance with the treaty, as well as technology that makes further
testing by this country unnecessary to the maintenance of an adequate
nuclear deterrence.

Opponents, now joined by Lugar, question those assurances.

The treaty has been signed by the United States and 153 other nations.
But it would not take effect until it was ratified by 44 countries
with a nuclear capability, including the United States. Only 26 of
those 44 have ratified.

(The Washington File is a product of the U.S. State Department)