The State Journal-Register
(Springfield, IL)
September 23, 1997

Clinton to push nuclear test ban

President Clinton, setting the stage for another arms-control battle with the Republican Congress, Monday announced that he will soon send to the Senate the nuclear test-ban treaty he signed a year ago.

The president's statement, which pits him against Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., came during his annual speech at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

Clinton used that speech as well to seek to put the longstanding U.S. dispute with the United Nations over back dues "behind us once and for all," promising to pay up but demanding that the world body be "more equitable" in assessing American responsibilities.

Clinton called the treaty "the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control," adding that it "will help prevent the nuclear powers from developing more advanced and more dangerous weapons."

That assessment is not universally shared by Republicans on Capitol Hill, many of whom believe further testing is needed to maintain the American nuclear deterrent. That resistance grew last month when Russia failed to provide adequate explanation for a seismic disturbance that U.S. officials say could have been either an earthquake or a nuclear test prohibited by the test ban.

Clinton was the first of 146 leaders to sign the treaty last year, but it was put on hold until the Senate could ratify a chemical weapons treaty and while discussions continued with Congressional leaders.

Robert Bell, special assistant to the president for defense policy and arms control, denied there had been any significant delay on the part of the administration.

"We've certainly not been idle. We've worked very, very hard on this for the last year," he told reporters. He said it took that long to work out "the crucial interpretations ... about what is prohibited and not prohibited under this treaty."

He said the final issue to be settled prior to Senate submission was how to fund the program.

Now, he said the administration's top goal is to achieve a committee hearing this fall.

But Helms has said he does not want to bring the treaty up until his committee can deal with the issue of NATO expansion. The White House hopes that hearings can begin this year with a ratification vote next year.

Clinton's speech helped open a General Assembly session that almost certainly will test the continuing U.S. clout as Third World countries demand structural changes to give them more say in the Security Council and U.N. decision-making.

With its focus on U.N. reform, the session may also prove tough for the United States, which has encountered resistance to its demands that the bureaucracy be reduced and that other countries begin to pay more for peacekeeping operations.

The difficulties for the United States were signalled when Secretary General Kofi Annan preceded Clinton to the dais and offered a pointed rebuke of the U.S. stand on dues.

Traditionally, the secretary general does not speak at such sessions, but Annan broke with precedent to urge that this be a "reform assembly" and to plead for support for his reform agenda, adopted in large part to assuage critics in the U.S. Congress.

But Annan coupled that call with a clear shot at the U.S. reluctance to pay its dues over the last several years.

"Some of you," he said, "I ask you to do what your legal obligations require: to liquidate your arrears, and to pay your future assessments in full, on time and without conditions."

Clinton displayed weariness over the dispute, which has shadowed U.S. dealings in the U.N. throughout his entire presidency and which has reduced American sway in the world body.

"This year, for the first time since I have been president, 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 for the future," he said.

While pointedly reminding the delegates from the 185 member nations that the United States is now and always has been the "largest contributor" to the U.N., the president said he has made it "a priority to work with our Congress on comprehensive legislation that would allow us to pay off the bulk of our arrears."

Bipartisan legislation backed by Helms is pending now in Congress that would permit the payment of $ 819 million. That is well short of the more than $ 1.6 billion the U.N. contends it is owed and even short of the $ 1.1 billion figure accepted by U.S. officials. But it would reinstate the United States as a shaper of U.N. reforms and eliminate what increasingly has become a diplomatic embarrassment.

That legislation also imposes several "benchmarks" of U.N. reforms that must be adopted if future dues are to be paid.

In his speech, the president called for a revamping of the assessment formulas. The United States currently is assessed 25 percent of the U.N.'s operating costs, which the Helms legislation would reduce to 20 percent.

For peacekeeping operations, the United States now pays 31 percent, which would be capped by Helms at 25 percent.

Neither of these proposals is particularly popular or likely to be embraced in the General Assembly.

On another issue of reform here, the president announced that he supports expansion of the Security Council, the main governing body for the U.N., which currently has 15 members, including five permanent members with vetoes.

The United States supports adding Germany and Japan as permanent members and boosting membership to 20 or 21 by adding rotating members from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The president also called for the establishment of a permanent international court to prosecute serious violations of humanitarian law.

There currently are tribunals for specific crimes in Rwanda and Bosnia, but no permanent court exists.

On a broader scale, the president urged the adoption of "a new strategy of security" with the development of new international institutions to take the world out of the post-Cold War era and into "this new global era."

While here, the president also met one-on-one with the leaders of India and Pakistan as well as Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Clinton left the Primakov meeting, aides said, encouraged that the Kremlin will begin pushing for ratification of the long-delayed START II treaty for strategic arms reduction.

Before returning to Washington, the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton attended a showing of "Carmen" at the Metropolitan Opera.