The Baltimore Sun
September 23, 1997

Clinton pushes arms treaty; President tells U.N. he's sending test-ban pact to Senate; 'Longest-sought prize'; Helms aide rules out hearings, says it could take 10 years to pass

UNITED NATIONS -- A year after signing it, President Clinton sent the Senate a global treaty banning nuclear-weapons tests yesterday, calling the pact the "longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control."

Clinton announced the action during his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly -- an occasion he used to strongly endorse beefing up the international organization.

The treaty, which would outlaw all nuclear weapons tests, was adopted by the United Nations in September 1996 and signed by Clinton two weeks later. But he held it while White House lobbyists tried to build support.

The treaty will not take effect unless all 44 nations possessing nuclear power reactors ratify it, and India has insisted that it will not do so. The treaty's value therefore is more symbolic than binding, although most nuclear powers -- including the United States and Russia -- abide by its terms already.

A spokesman for Sen. Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Helms has ruled out any hearings this fall on the treaty.

"It's not even on our radar screen, and certainly not in our top 10 of issues. This could take 10 years to get done," the spokesman said.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and other U.S. defense experts have assured Clinton that America's nuclear arsenal could be maintained reliably without explosive tests and that the military fully supports the ban.

Clinton's annual U.N. address was noteworthy in its embrace of the international organization, despite fears by some Americans that the international organization has become too intrusive.

From fighting drug-traffickers to policing war-zone peace settlements, from spreading global wealth to slowing global warming, "the United Nations must play a leading role in this effort, filling in the fault lines of the new global era," Clinton said.

Clinton called for the creation of a permanent international court under U.N. auspices before 2000 "to prosecute the most serious violations of humanitarian law."

He also said he believes that the Republican-led Congress is ready to pay the United States' back dues to the United Nations and urged the General Assembly to support the money-saving internal reforms pushed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The president glossed over one point of possible friction with Annan, however, noting in passing that "we look to member states to adopt a more equitable scale of assessment" of U.N. dues.

That was a veiled reference to a U.S. proposal to cut U.S. dues to 20 percent of U.N. costs, down from the current 25 percent. To make up the difference, higher dues would be charged to Japan and other rising economic powers, mostly in Asia.

Annan, in his opening address before Clinton spoke, called on all U.N. members not only to support his reforms but also to pay their dues "in full, on time and without conditions."

It was the first time in the 52-year history of the Assembly that a secretary-general had spoken at the start of the annual debate.

Britain urged the United States to pay its debts and rejected a call by Clinton to reduce the amount Washington contributes to the world body. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said the United States could not expect to withhold the $ 1.5 billion it owes while other members paid in full and on time.

Cook will address the General Assembly today, and officials said he would be uncompromising on the question of debt.

A British official stressed that there would be no question of countries ganging up against Washington, since it was clear that the major obstacle was Helms' committee rather than the White House.

In response, a spokesman for Helms said that Cook had been rude when he saw the senator in Washington several months ago.

"If the foreign secretary is as undiplomatic in his speech in the General Assembly as he was in his meeting with Senator Helms, then I am sure he will have very little impact there as well," said Marc Thiessen.

Annan spoke of a number of world trouble spots that he said members might wish to address during the debate. These included the continuing "brutal and futile civil war" in Afghanistan; the persisting "bitter legacies intolerance and violence" in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, and the need to "consolidate the gains achieved" in Bosnia-Herzegovina and prevent a relapse into the horrors of the past.