Washington -- Republican Senator Jesse Helms, who has up until now strongly opposed U.S. ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), announced March 25 that "there's a very good chance that there could be a treaty."
Helms made the statement after a day-long tour of his home state of North Carolina with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would schedule an April 9 hearing on the treaty before his committee, looking to a vote in the Senate.
The CWC, an international treaty banning chemical weapons, has already been ratified by enough countries that it will go into effect April 29. The Clinton Administration has been urging the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty by that date; if it misses the deadline, the United States would lose its chance to be a member of the Executive Council that will oversee implementation of the CWC. U.S. citizens would not be eligible to serve as international inspectors or in any other key positions relating to verification.
Helms has argued that the treaty is not verifiable and that nations like Iraq and Libya won't sign. But Albright dismissed his reservations by noting, in a speech she gave at Helms' alma mater, Wingate University the evening of March 25, that "It's like saying that because some people smuggle drugs, there is no point in passing a law against drug smuggling. We can't let the bad guys write the rules."
Albright vowed early in her tenure as Secretary of State to forge a bipartisan foreign policy, and she has been making good on her promise. Her first trip as Secretary was to Houston to visit former Republican President George Bush and the man who was his Secretary of State -- James A. Baker. Bush and Baker originally negotiated the CWC; it's ratification now is a top foreign policy priority for the Clinton Administration.
Albright's trip to North Carolina with Helms is her second. During her tenure as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, she appeared with him before the Women's Fund of North Carolina.
Helms' public announcement that he would, however grudgingly, reconsider ratifying the CWC -- the treaty, he said, "maybe has some good points that are sort of hard for me to find" -- may well represent the first victory of Albright's "charm offensive" as applied to Republican opposition. By all accounts, Helms and Albright, despite their political differences, appear to genuinely like and respect each other.
After Albright spoke at Wingate University, a small private college affiliated with the Baptist Church, she later in the evening gave Helms a blue tee-shirt inscribed, "Somebody at the State Department Loves Me."