Washington -- The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) "will pass (the Senate) if it comes to a vote," Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) Director John Holum predicted April 1.
Speaking to reporters at the Center for War, Peace, and the News Media in Boston, Massachusetts, Holum said he is optimistic that a vote in the Senate will be scheduled because the CWC is "no longer embroiled in presidential politics," as it was during the last months of 1996, prompting President Clinton to remove it from consideration until after the election.
Senators "are now free to judge the treaty on its merits," Holum remarked. "I think that augurs well," he added.
Asked about the hearings that Senator Jesse Helms (Republican-North Carolina), the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the leading spokesperson for those critical of the CWC, has scheduled for next week, Holum said it is important "that a timetable is being established." But he said he most looks forward to "a timetable for a vote. We aren't there yet, but we are within reach."
Holum said that negotiations are still continuing with the Senate about a number of issues, so he could not comment on the specifics in contention at this time. But he noted that Helms said recently in North Carolina that many of the issues have been resolved to his satisfaction. There are about ten issues remaining, Holum added.
Asked about the so-called linkage issue -- Helms' support for the CWC in exchange for the administration's commitment to support consolidation of foreign affairs agencies -- Holum classified the argument as, "you can have the golden egg if you kill the goose?" He said categorically: "We're not accepting any linkage."
Holum said the administration "is evaluating reorganization of the State Department and foreign affairs agencies," and that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright "is in process of developing her own views," but it is not being done "in the context of the chemical weapons treaty."
Has Helms, as well as the administration, accepted there is no linkage, asked one reporter? "I don't know the answer to that," responded Holum. But he noted that "Helms' staff has said they don't accept linkage."
Although the administration "can't approve amendments that would contradict the treaty," it can go "a long way to assure the Senate on the interpretation of the treaty," Holum remarked. He gave some examples:
-- The administration can affirm that export controls on chemical weapons and equipment "are not prohibited by the treaty."
-- Language can be crafted to assure doubters that the U.S. "will keep its guard up," against potential violators.
-- The U.S. "will protest vigorously any abusive efforts to level challenge inspections."
Holum said the administration wants to make the latter clear to assure Senators who are concerned about countries that might seek excessive inspections of U.S. companies and government sites to cause dislocation, or even to obtain trade secrets. He noted that, under the terms of the CWC, the U.S. has the right "to object to inspectors from any particular country."
On verification, the issue that most opponents of the treaty say is a paramount concern, Holum said onsite inspections allowed under the provisions of the CWC "will be quite effective." But he also noted that the CWC "allows for new technologies as they become available," to be added to the arsenal of verification mechanisms.
In answer to critics who say the CWC is not verifiable, Holum said "not verifiable compared to what?" The treaty will give the U.S. more information about threats, and violations will be actionable, he stressed.
On prospects for the CWC if there is a vote in the Senate, Holum noted its broad backing, including support from "leading Republicans." Asked if the administration has tallied the votes, he said, "we don't have a specific vote count. I'd just as soon not get into numbers, but we are within reach."
To become an original member of the CWC, the U.S. must ratify the treaty by April 29. Over 160 countries have signed the treaty, and 70 have ratified it.