St. Louis Post-Dispatch
September 23, 1997


On a day of diplomacy at the United Nations, President Bill Clinton opened a bid Monday to gain Senate ratification of a global treaty outlawing nuclear test explosions.

He told the United Nations he had sent legislation to the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a pact talked about since Dwight Eisenhower was president in the 1950s. It was signed a year ago by 146 nations, including the United States, Russia and China. So far, only four countries have ratified it.

Clinton called the treaty "our commitment to end all nuclear tests for all time, the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control."

Making his fifth annual appearance at the U.N. General Assembly, Clinton laid out no new proposals but sought to strengthen support for issues already on the table, such as an international criminal court for humanitarian law violations.

He also urged the United Nations to create an international criminal court to "prosecute the most serious violations of humanitarian law."

U.S. officials said the need for the court was underscored by the absence of a place to try captured ex-Cambodian dictator Pol Pot for the execution of up to 2 million Cambodians in the 1970s.

Clinton also urged the United Nations to accept a proposed U.S. compromise for paying a large portion of its $ 1.5 billion in back dues in exchange for reforms, including a reduction in how much America pays the United Nations.

"This year . . . we have the opportunity to put the questions of debts and dues behind us once and for all," he said.

In a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Clinton announced he would visit Pakistan during a South Asia tour expected for early next year, possibly in early spring. He will also visit India on t hat trip.

Clinton also discussed Bosnia and regaining arms control momentum with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Clinton's stand on the test ban treaty puts pressure on India, which has said it will not sign the treaty and whose signature is crucial for the pact to take effect.

Under the treaty, all 44 nations with the ability to create nuclear arms must ratify it for it to take effect.

And in the Senate, it will take a two-thirds majority vote to gain ratification of the test ban treaty. Republicans who want to retain the U.S. right to test nuclear weapons will offer some stiff opposition.

The United States is already adhering to the test ban.

Trying to head off the opposition, Robert Bell, National Security Council arms control director, said Clinton has been assured by the Energy Department and directors of weapons labs that the United States can safely maintain its nuclear arsenal without having to detonate any test blasts.

"The United States must and will . . . retain strategic nuclear forces sufficient to deter any future hostile foreign leadership wtih access to strategic nuclear forces," Bell said.

The president needs about 22 Republican senators to join Democrats in support of the treaty.

'Failure Is Not An Option'

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he expected the treaty would be before the Senate next year.

But he said it would require a "serious effort" by supporters to get it passed.

Bell said: "We intend to win this vote, and failure is not an option."

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is chairman of the Governmental Affairs subcommittee that handles this issue.

He said his panel will hold a hearing next week on whether the United States can count on its nuclear weapons to work without testing.

"If it creates a more dangerous environment and is an incentive for others to cheat and steal a march on the rest of the world and puts us at risk, then we would make a bad mistake to approve the treaty," he said.

Paying Back Dues

The United Nations says the United States owes it $ 1.5 billion in back dues. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., has earmarked about $ 900 million of that amount and attached conditions before any arrears are paid. The chief condition is that Washington's dues assessment be reduced from paying 25 percent of U.N. operations to 20 percent.

"I ask the General Assembly to act on these proposals this year so that we can move forward together," Clinton said.

But Britain said the United States should pay its debt and its full share.

Putting pressure on the United States to pay up was media mogul Ted Turner, who announced Thursday he was donating $ 1 billion in stocks over the next 10 years to the United Nations, in part because the United States has not paid up.

Clinton hailed Turner's gesture and said, "I hope more will follow his lead."