The Des Moines Register
September 23, 1997

Clinton urges ratification of ban on nuclear testing

BYLINE: Robert Rankin

United Nations - A year after signing it, President Clinton on Monday sent the Senate a global treaty banning nuclear-weapons tests, 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 United Nations General Assembly - an occasion he used to strongly endorse beefing up the international organization.

The nuclear test-ban treaty, which would outlaw all nuclear weapons tests, was adopted by the United Nations last September and signed by Clinton two weeks later.

Symbolic Value

The treaty will not take effect unless all 44 nations possessing nuclear power reactors ratify it, and India has insisted 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, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Helms has ruled out any hearings this fall on the test-ban treaty.

"This is definitely not a burning issue in the Senate," the spokesman said. "We've got a full plate of other issues, including NATO expansion and finalizing the United Nations' reform package."

Even if Helms' committee recommended the accord, its ratification would face a steep challenge in the full Senate, where 67 votes are needed to approve treaties. Assuming all 45 Democrats supported it, the treaty would have to attract 22 Republicans to be ratified.

GOP Support Lags

Among Republicans, there appears to be little enthusiasm for banning nuclear tests.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., otherwise known as a strong internationalist, is cool to the idea. In the early 1990s, he opposed a test-ban proposal by then-Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., and has since expressed doubts that compliance could be monitored.

The senior Democrat on the foreign relations panel, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, supports the treaty but acknowledges it could face tough resistance in the Senate. "It's got a lot of complications," he said through a spokesman.

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

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."

The president also said he believes the Republican-majority Congress is ready to pay America's back dues to the United Nations and urged the General Assembly to support money-saving internal reforms pushed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.