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Washington Journal: Albright Calls On U.S. Senate To Ratify Nuclear Treaty

With just one working day left before the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on ratification of a global nuclear test ban treaty, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has again made the Administration's case for speedy approval. RFE/RL Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports that Albright addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee late Thursday in a hearing that clearly displayed the still widely differing views on the issue.

Washington, 8 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright took just 15 minutes to make the case for ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) - a key foreign policy goal of the Clinton Administration.

Deliberation of the issue has been two years in the waiting and now, with one week's consideration, could undergo a make or break vote. Despite the obvious tension as the issue moves towards potential resolution, Secretary Albright delivered a simple reiteration of long-stated U.S. policy Thursday.

She told Senate Foreign Relation Committee members that while the CTBT treaty was not a panacea it would, in the Administration's view, make it more difficult and dangerous for countries to develop and modernize nuclear weapons. That, in Albright's words, "is without question in the national security interests of the United States."

Albright also sought to answer critics of ratification who fear that a halt on testing, as called for under the treaty, would damage America's ability to maintain its nuclear arsenal.

"Since America has no need and does not plan to conduct nuclear explosive tests, the essence of the debate should be clear. It is not about preventing America from conducting tests, it is about preventing and dissuading others from doing so. It is about establishing the principle on a global basis that it is not smart, not safe, not right and not legal to conduct explosive tests in order to develop or modernize nuclear weapons."

So far, 154 nations have signed the treaty, although it has been ratified by only 48. Of the major nuclear powers, only Britain and France have ratified the pact.

Earlier this week, Albright personally wrote to all the members of the U.S. Senate, making the case for ratification. In the letter, she said ratifying the CTBT treaty would provide a strong incentive to the rest of the world to halt their own nuclear tests. Failure to ratify, according to Albright's words, would be a major setback to U.S. international leadership.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, a Republican from Virginia, today said in his testimony that the issue was not that simple.

"There are honest differences on both sides, leaving clearly a reasonable doubt and I come from the old school (of thought) in that it should be beyond any reasonable doubt, if we are going to take a step that affects our vital security interests for decades to come."

Senator Warner said he was particularly worried that it would be impossible, in his view, to monitor compliance with the treaty with the level of confidence he said the U.S. Senate should demand. As such, he said he would oppose CTBT ratification if and when it comes up for a vote.

Warner also said that while his opponents would argue otherwise, it was his belief that countries of the most concern - North Korea, Iran and Iraq - could still develop and even deploy nuclear weapons, without any type of testing whatsoever.

Albright argued otherwise. She said if the United States rejects this treaty and treats nuclear testing as "business as usual," so too will everyone else. Albright said nuclear proliferation would then grow.

"We want other countries, including Russia, China, India and Pakistan, to ratify this treaty and undertake a binding commitment to refrain from nuclear explosive tests. But how can we convince them to do so if we will not? If we wait, why shouldn't they? Waiting is not a strategy, waiting is the absence of a strategy."

And waiting is where the issue now stands. Under an agreement scheduling the vote, a single senator can block the treaty, and several have said they will do so, unless President Clinton takes the initiative to shelve it.

RFE/RL's correspondent reports that in closing her remarks Thursday, Secretary Albright gave no indication that Clinton would take such a step. She said the Administration's only preference was to see the treaty ratified as soon as possible.