The Washington Post
September 23, 1997

Clinton Tells U.N. He's Ready To Forward Test Ban to Senate

BYLINE: John F. Harris

One year after he came here to sign a global treaty banning nuclear weapons testing, President Clinton today told the General Assembly that he is ready to send the treaty to the Senate for ratification, beginning what senior administration officials said could be a hard-fought, months-long debate with arms control skeptics.

Clinton last year signed the treaty with a flourish, boasting that his administration brought to fruition an idea that had eluded arms control negotiators for nearly four decades. But other priorities, including the need to lobby the Senate to approve a chemical weapons treaty, delayed action on the test ban treaty.

At his annual appearance here, Clinton told the 52nd session of the General Assembly that "our common goal" should be for the testing ban to enter "into force as soon as possible." The United States and the four other major nuclear powers -- Russia, China, Britain and France -- have pledged to abide by the terms of the treaty, although seismic readings recorded last month have raised questions about whether Russia conducted a secret test.

In today's address, Clinton also said pending legislation in Congress makes him more confident than ever that the United States will soon repay its long overdue bill to the United Nations, but warned the money will come with strings attached. He and U.S. lawmakers want other nations to pay a larger share of U.N. costs in the future.

But Clinton's linkage of back dues -- the United States pays the largest share of U.N. costs but is in arrears by more than $ 1 billion -- to an agreement on a "more equitable" funding formula and other reforms put him at odds with Secretary General Kofi Annan. Moments before Clinton spoke, Annan delivered a barbed message to nations that are behind in payments, lecturing them to "do what your legal obligations require: to liquidate your arrears, and to pay your future assessments in full, on time, and without conditions."

The Clinton administration's pledge to get out of debt is not new, but Clinton said that "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."

White House national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said the optimism is fueled by legislation recently passed in the Senate with the support of Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C), a critic of the U.N. The bill would pay about $ 819 million of the money the United States owes, but would require that the U.S. share of U.N. funding drop from its current level of 25 percent to 22 percent this year, and to 20 percent by 2000.

A total of 146 nations have signed the nuclear anti-testing treaty, although only Japan and three others have ratified it. Two prominent holdouts from the signatories are India, which has said it does not envision signing soon, and Pakistan, which has said it cannot sign as long as India abstains. Both nations are among the 44 actual or potential nuclear powers that, under the treaty's rules, can block it from taking effect.

A more immediate concern for the administration is opposition to the treaty at home. Hoping to answer objections that a ban on testing would erode the potency and deterrent effect of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Robert Bell, the National Security Council's senior director for arms control, said the administration has arrived at a plan, with a projected annual cost of $ 4.5 billion, to use nuclear labs and supercomputers to ensure the effectiveness of the arsenal without setting off bombs.

Many Republican lawmakers have said they feel no urgency about taking up the test ban treaty, which they say has lesser priority than a package of United Nations reforms and legislation supporting the expansion of NATO, according to Marc A. Thiessen, a spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said some lawmakers "have a lot of concern" about a test ban and predicted that the treaty likely would not be considered by the committee before the middle of next year, at the earliest.

In his address today, Clinton offered a robust endorsement of the United Nations, and more broadly of the notion that many modern security problems must be addressed, not by the United States alone, but by international organizations.

Early in his first term, Clinton preached the virtues of "multilateralism," but he backed off after the failures by U.N.-led peacekeeping efforts in Somalia and Bosnia, and charges by Republicans that his faith in international institutions was eroding U.S. sovereignty. "The forces of global integration are a great tide, inexorably wearing away the established order of things," Clinton said today.