The Commercial Appeal
(Memphis, TN)
September 23, 1997


BYLINE: James Bennet

Almost a year after signing it, President Clinton on Monday called for the Senate to approve the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, ''the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control.''

In a speech to the General Assembly, Clinton also urged the creation of a permanent international court by the end of the century to prosecute the most serious violations of humanitarian law.

He spoke after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan pleaded for all nations to pay their debts to the United Nations, and Clinton promised that the United States soon would repay most of the $1 billion that it owes. But mindful of congressional Republicans' demands, he reiterated that the United Nations must change its scale for assessing dues and ask less of the United States in the future.

While the President declared passage of the nuclear test-ban treaty - which would ban all nuclear explosions - one of his top priorities, some senior Republicans said they doubted that the treaty would come to a vote this year.

For the bulk of his 21-minute address to the 52nd session of the General Assembly, Clinton described what he saw as the possibilities at ''the dawn of a new millennium'' and the international arrangements necessary to take advantage of them.

Declaring that ''we're all vulnerable to the reckless acts of rogue states and to an unholy axis of terrorists, drug traffickers, and international criminals,'' Clinton argued that military and trade alliances, as well as arms control agreements, could create a protective ''web of institutions and arrangements.''

The White House waited a year to send the test-ban treaty to Congress partly because it wanted to secure approval of a treaty banning chemical weapons first. Further, the administration has been analyzing the treaty to see precisely what it prohibits.

''We've certainly not been idle,'' said Bob Bell, senior director of the National Security Council. ''We've worked very, very hard on this the last year to get the whole package ready for the Senate.''

Bell said that rather than testing, the United States would maintain its nuclear arsenal through a ''science-based, stockpile stewardship program,'' costing about $4.5 billion a year. Some Senate Republicans, however, harbor doubts that such a program - which uses laboratory experiments and computer simulations - can effectively replace test explosions in maintaining the arsenal.

Marc Thiessen, a spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), said the ban ''is not something that's on the front burner of the committee right now.'' He noted that 44 countries believed to have nuclear capability must approve the treaty before it takes effect. ''That's certainly not going to happen in the next year, and may not happen in the next decade,'' he said.

But the administration argues that the United States should take a leadership role by approving the treaty soon. ''We intend to win this vote, and failure is not an option,'' Bell said. Of the 44 countries that must approve the treaty, only Japan has done so. In all, 146 nations have signed the treaty.

On the thorny issue of U.S. debts to the United Nations, Clinton said 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 - much of the U.S. dues in arrears - if the portion of UN budget covered by the United States is reduced from 25 percent to 20 percent by 2000. The United States still would owe the world organization about $200 million, according to U.S. calculations, and about $700 million according to UN calculations.