The Dallas Morning News
September 23, 1997

President to seek Senate approval of nuclear test ban

BYLINE: Richard Whittle

UNITED NATIONS - President Clinton told the United Nations on Monday that he would ask the Senate to ratify a treaty to ban all nuclear explosions - a pact he signed a year ago but has delayed submitting to Congress.

"I was honored to be the first of 146 leaders to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, our commitment to end nuclear tests for all time," Mr. Clinton said in an address to the 52nd U.N. General Assembly. "I am pleased to announce that today I am sending this crucial treaty to the United States Senate for ratification."

In his 15-minute speech, the president also called for the creation of a permanent international court to prosecute crimes against humanity, such as genocide. And he urged the 184 other U.N. members to accept a U.S. offer to pay nearly $1 billion in back dues to the organization in exchange for a cut in the American share of the U.N. budget and a range of reforms.

Alluding to legislation pending in Congress that would let the president pay off most of the U.S. debt to the world body, Mr. Clinton said, "We have an opportunity to put the questions of debts and dues behind us once and for all, and to put the United Nations on a sounder financial footing."

Mr. Clinton, who arrived in New York on Sunday, later attended a luncheon hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and met separately with the prime ministers of Pakistan and India and Russia's foreign minister. He and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton also attended a performance of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday evening before returning to Washington.

The United States and the other four major nuclear powers -- Britain, China, France and Russia -- all have stopped conducting nuclear tests. But the test ban treaty would impose a permanent halt to such explosions and require the signatories to submit to international verification of their compliance.

In his speech, Mr. Clinton called the pact "the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control. It will help to prevent nuclear powers from developing more advanced and more dangerous weapons. It will limit the possibilities for other states to acquire such devices."

Jack Mendelsohn, deputy director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, which promotes disarmament, said the test ban pact was "a very important treaty."

"You want to have the formal verification provisions up and running so that you can keep an eye on the world," Mr. Mendelsohn said.

Mr. Clinton signed the treaty last year but had waited to submit it to the Senate while the administration tried to generate support for the pact. Some Senate Republicans have opposed the treaty on the ground that testing is needed to assure the reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons.

A two-thirds majority of the Senate is required to ratify a treaty.

The treaty's future is clouded, however. It must be signed by all 44 nations that possess nuclear reactors before it can go into effect. Three -- India, Pakistan and North Korea -- have yet to do so.

Bob Bell, a National Security Council aide responsible for arms control issues, said it "was no secret" when the treaty was being negotiated "that the government of India had very serious objections to joining this treaty."

For that reason, Mr. Bell said, the treaty stipulates that if the minimum 44 states have failed to ratify the agreement by the fall of 1999, a majority of signatories can hold a special conference to "find a way to get the treaty into force."

Rick Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, said Mr. Clinton urged Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral to reconsider the test ban treaty when they met.

Mr. Gujral replied that India would be pleased to discuss the issue, Mr. Inderfurth said. But the State Department official added, "I'm not sure we have any new opening here."

Mr. Mendelsohn predicted it would be very hard for most senators to oppose the test ban treaty outright.

Mr. Bell said the administration had "worked very, very hard on this the past year to get this ready for the Senate. We intend to win this vote, and failure is not an option."

The United States conducted its last nuclear test on Sept. 23, 1992, after setting off 1,030 such explosions since 1945, according to the Arms Control Association. Russia, which had conducted 715 tests, set off its last official test explosion in 1990.

Skeptics contend that an unidentified "seismic event" Aug. 16 in a remote area of Russia was a nuclear test, but Mr. Bell said the independent data is not conclusive.

"You cannot rule out that it was an explosion," he said. "You cannot rule out that it was an earthquake."

Mr. Bell added that if the treaty were already in force, Russia would be obliged to allow international inspectors to study the question more closely.

Mr. Bell said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had discussed the treaty with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The administration hopes that the committee will hold initial hearings this fall and that the full Senate will vote on the pact next year, he said.

National security adviser Sandy Berger said the president's call for a permanent international criminal tribunal was modeled on the temporary U.N. panel established in The Hague, Netherlands, to prosecute war crimes and genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda.

A permanent tribunal could be used, he said, to prosecute figures such as Pol Pot, the former Khmer Rouge guerrilla leader blamed for Cambodia's infamous killing fields in the 1970s.

In raising the issue of U.S. back dues, Mr. Clinton urged other U.N. members to "adopt a more equitable scale of assessment."

The legislation pending in Congress would permit the president to pay $825 million in arrears, but only if the United Nations accepts a long list of reforms. Congress is also demanding that U.N. members agree to cut the U.S. assessment from 25 to 20 percent of the general budget and from 31 to 25 percent of the costs of peacekeeping operations.

Secretary-General Annan recently proposed a series of reforms, including staff and budget cuts. But in opening the General Assembly, he pointedly urged members who are behind on their dues -- the United States is only the largest debtor of many -- to "liquidate your arrears and pay your future assessments in full, on time and without reservations."