Los Angeles Times
September 23, 1997



President Clinton on Monday asked a skeptical Senate to ratify a treaty to ban nuclear test explosions, calling the pact "the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control."

In an address to the 52nd U.N. General Assembly, Clinton also called on the other nations whose leaders signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to go forward with ratification.

Clinton signed the test-ban treaty a year ago but delayed sending it to the Senate.

White House officials said they expected the treaty to face rough treatment from some Senate Republicans but expressed confidence that it will pass in the end, following the pattern of previous arms control treaties.

The officials said they hoped the Senate will begin hearings on the treaty later this fall and vote on it next year, although such a schedule remains in doubt.

Clinton used his U.N. appearance to outline his vision of an increasingly integrated world at the turn of the millennium.

"Behind us, we leave a century full of humanity's capacity for the worst and its genius for the best," Clinton said. "Before us . . . we can envision a new era that escapes the 20th century's darkest moments, fulfills its most brilliant possibilities and crosses frontiers yet unimagined."

The president also, for the first time, proposed a timetable for the creation of a permanent international court to prosecute the most serious violations of humanitarian law. He also pledged to continue working with Congress on a plan to pay much of the United States' huge U.N. debt.

A nuclear test-ban treaty was first sought by President Eisenhower. Among the reasons it has been so long in the making is that some members of Congress fear that the United States will not be able to maintain its nuclear deterrent without testing. Foes also argue that verification of compliance would be impossible.

White House officials said the president has been assured that a $4.5-billion-a-year research program developed under Clinton will adequately maintain the nation's nuclear stockpile.

One reason Clinton has not sent the treaty to Congress until now is that the White House and Congress have been negotiating the details of this program and the funding level necessary to maintain it, according to Bob Bell, senior director of the White House National Security Council. Officials hope the program will help persuade reluctant senators to vote for ratification.

"We intend to win a vote on the treaty , and failure is not an option," Bell said.

The treaty debate, however, is sure to produce fireworks.

"While ratification will not be easy because of the complex issues involved, I'm confident that after full consideration, the Senate will ratify," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Biden also expressed optimism that committee hearings will occur on the treaty this fall.

But a spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) cautioned against such speculation. "This is not a front-burner issue, and the committee has a very full agenda between now and the end of the year," Marc Thiessen said.

Helms has frequently opposed arms control treaties, saying they cannot be effectively policed and thus are licenses for America's enemies to cheat.

Helms' stiff opposition to an international ban on chemical weapons held up a vote on that treaty last spring. He eventually allowed a full Senate vote on the treaty, which passed, but part of the price he charged was a pledge from the administration to send all arms control treaties--including the test-ban treaty--to his committee.

The test-ban pact--which has been signed by 146 nations but ratified by only four--may face even greater obstacles internationally than it does in the United States.

The accord does not become binding until it has been ratified by all 44 nations that conduct nuclear research or have nuclear reactors. Three of them--India, Pakistan and Israel--have not yet signed. India has voiced the loudest objections to the treaty, saying it discriminates in favor of the large nuclear powers because it does not require nations to dismantle existing arms.

The issue was raised Monday in a meeting between Clinton and Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. Officials of the two nations agreed to continue discussions, but it was not clear that there was any opening that might lead India to sign the accord, said Assistant Secretary of State Rick Inderfurth, who attended the meeting.

On the issue of a permanent international court to punish human rights violators, Clinton called for its establishment "before the century ends."

Traditionally, international courts have been established on a case-by-case basis to investigate human rights violations--such as the panel probing Bosnian war crimes suspects.

On the thorny issue of U.S. debts to the U.N., Clinton said that his administration is pressing Congress to approve a bill that would take a big step toward resolving the issue.

Both houses of Congress are working on measures for repaying $819 million--part of the U.S. dues in arrears--if the portion of the U.N. budget covered by the United States is reduced from 25% to 20% by 2000. The United States would still owe the world organization about $200 million according to U.S. calculations and about $700 million according to U.N. calculations.

Clinton conceded that the debt has brought into question the United States' commitment to the United Nations.

"We are committed to seeing the United Nations succeed in the 21st century," Clinton said. "We have an opportunity to put the question of debts and dues behind us once and for all and to put the United Nations on a sounder financial footing."

Clinton praised television mogul Ted Turner for his pledge last week to contribute $1 billion to the United Nations. The president called him "a truly visionary American."

Times staff writer Tyler Marshall in Washington contributed to this report.