U.S. President Bill Clinton held a White House news conference yesterday, during which he accused the Republican-led Senate of "reckless partisanship" in rejecting the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (CTBT). As RFE/RL correspondent Lisa McAdams reports, Clinton appealed to nuclear-capable countries not to use the vote as an excuse to resume or begin nuclear testing.
Washington, 15 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- President Bill Clinton says the United States stands "steadfast" in its determination to see that the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty is eventually ratified.
In a televised press conference in Washington yesterday -- a day after the treaty's resounding defeat in the Senate (upper house) -- Clinton said the U.S. will not abandon its commitment to the treaty and will not resume underground nuclear testing. The United States last conducted underground nuclear tests in 1992.
Clinton also sought to encourage other countries to follow the U.S. lead, which supporters of the treaty say is now severely limited, barring ratification.
"I call on Russia, China, Britain, France, and all other countries to continue to refrain from testing. I call on nations that have not done so to sign and ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. And I will continue to do all I can to make that case to the Senate. When all is said and done, I have no doubt that the United States will ratify this treaty."
Of the world's 44 nuclear-capable countries, 26 have signed the treaty. But of the world's seven declared nuclear powers, only Britain and France have done so.
Clinton noted that the treaty, even though rejected, can still be brought up for ratification again. He said it is still on the Senate calendar and, as he put it, "we have to keep moving forward."
Despite the obvious attempt to paint the defeat in the best possible light, Clinton reserved a strong measure of blame for the U.S. Senate. He said the vote -- only the 21st rejection of a treaty in U.S. history -- was partisan politics at its worst.
Clinton also criticized what he called signs of a new "isolationism" among some opponents of the treaty. He said their views are reflected in Congress' delinquency on UN dues and in what he called a "woefully inadequate" budget for foreign affairs.
Clinton also had a message for Pakistan and India, both of which last year tested nuclear devices. He told them not to take yesterday's vote as a sign that America doesn't care about testing. "We do care and they shouldn't test," he said.
Clinton later fielded questions from reporters, including one detailing some Republicans' call for a scrapping of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). That treaty limits the scope of anti-missile systems and was an outgrowth of the first round of strategic arms limitation talks. Clinton said that rejection of the treaty would be foolish:
"We are working with the Russians, and we have made real progress in reducing threats as a result of it. And let me just tick off a few things. They've continued to reduce their nuclear arsenal. If they ratify START II, we'll take our nuclear arsenals to 80 percent below their Cold War high. We're prepared to go into START III negotiations with them if they do. They have also taken their troops out of the Baltics and they have gotten weapons out of all those former Soviet republics. We're getting something out of this. And we, I think, would be very foolish to just discard the ABM treaty."
Clinton said he is confident that if the Russians believe it is in their best security interests to do so, they will ratify START II. That won't happen, Clinton said, if the U.S. just scraps the CTBT treaty.
Immediately after Clinton's news conference, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott defended the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty:
"The message is to our treaty negotiators, to this administration, and to the rest of the world: The Senate is a co-equal party in treaties. We should be involved in advice and consent. Our advice was not asked, and we didn't give our consent. We did our job. We did the right thing for our country, and I'm very proud of it."
Lott, in a televised rebuttal, said no senator was pressured to vote any way but his or her conscience. He also accused Clinton of what he called "revisionist history."