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Western Press Review: Opinion Condemns U.S. Senate Stand On Test Ban

By Don Hill, Aurora Gallego, and Dora Slaba

Prague, 15 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Senate vote Wednesday that failed to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty drew overwhelmingly negative commentary in the international press. The Senate action achieved the rare feat of eliciting matching editorial commentaries from the American Atlanta Constitution, the French daily Le Monde, and the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- newspapers of markedly different orientations.

LE MONDE: The world's first power has lost its credibility

Le Monde headlines its editorial, "The Senate Throws a Bomb." It attributes the U.S. rejection of the treaty primarily to anti-Clinton politics. The editorial opens with this blast: "They got their revenge. Frustrated by their inability to bring (U.S. President) Bill Clinton down through the (Monica) Lewinsky affair, the members of the Republican majority of the U.S. Senate just struck a blow without precedent to the president of the United States."

The Paris newspaper says the United States now has given China, Russia, India and Pakistan all the excuse they need to continue their own testing. It denounces what it calls the "willfulness and irresponsibility of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Jesse Helms."

It concludes with these words: "But, alas! The Republican senators lack any vision beyond their national borders. Today the treaty. Yesterday, U.S. indebtedness to the United Nations. The day before yesterday, foreign aid. Reversing and negating, they deflect Clinton from fulfilling American international commitments. The world's first power has lost its credibility on the world scene."

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION: Democrats should vow to behave more responsibly

The Atlanta Constitution, published in the major city of the conservative U.S. South, says this in an editorial: "Clintonphobes in the U.S. Senate couldn't bring down the president by convicting him on impeachment charges, so they decided to pursue the next most satisfying course -- to humiliate him. What better way to do that than to defeat him on a treaty he had signed with great fanfare and promised the world he could deliver with Senate ratification?"

Congressional leaders used to be guided -- albeit imperfectly -- by the belief that partisan politics should stop at the country's shores, the newspaper says. The Atlanta Constitution urges Democrats to take notice of the damage and vow to behave more responsibly when next they are the majority facing a Republican president.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: This triumph can still turn sour for the Republicans

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung uses these words in an editorial: "It requires a special brand of self-confidence of the last remaining superpower to use the most important international arms control treaty as an instrument of home policy conflicts."

The newspaper says U.S. Senate Republicans couched the debate in security policy terms but transparently acted in a calculated way to increase their power and weaken Clinton's. The German newspaper concludes with this: "Since the majority of Americans are in favor of a ban on nuclear tests, this triumph can still turn sour for the Republicans. At any rate, the foreign and security damage is colossal."

TIMES: The Senate Republicans have done their country, and their allies, a grave disservice

The Times of London calls the treaty defeat, in its words, "The Wrong Republican Move on Arms Control." Its editorial says this: "Neither President Clinton nor any Western leader has tried to mask the gravity of the administration's defeat in the Senate on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair, (French) President (Jacques) Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor, joined in an unprecedented public attempt to lobby the Senate; all now have expressed their dismay at the outcome."

The Times says that the Senate vote constitutes what it calls "a serious blow to America's political and moral authority." It says that as a result, the treaty may never get the agreements required to go into force." The newspaper says: "The Senate Republicans, by exploiting the opportunity to inflict a very public defeat on a lame-duck president, have done their country, and their allies, a grave disservice."

NEW YORK TIMES: This decision threatens to be disastrous, unless ...

The New York Times, having already castigated the Senate yesterday for the test ban vote, weighed in today with praise for what it called President Clinton's "forceful and focused" response. In today's editorial, the New York Times said: "America's most honored foreign policy tradition is bipartisanship. The Senate so rarely votes to reject major treaties that the last comparable precedent was Woodrow Wilson's defeat over the Treaty of Versailles nearly 80 years ago. That disastrous decision weakened Washington's voice in international affairs. This one threatens to do the same unless Clinton manages to keep alive some momentum for nuclear arms control and the Senate returns to its traditions of serious and constructive foreign policy debate."

GUARDIAN: We must consider the possible consequences

From London, The Guardian's diplomatic editor Ian Black comments on possible consequences of rejecting the treaty. He says China, nervous over nuclear advances in Pakistan and India, may end its testing moratorium. Test ban advocates South Africa and Brazil may withdraw to protest the American political games. Egypt will feel less secure. And Iran, Iraq and North Korea, Black opines, are more likely to feel they can move ahead with impunity.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Senate was right to raise questions about the treaty

The Daily Telegraph, of London, says, as the newspaper puts it in an editorial: "The rejection by the United States Senate of the (treaty) has provoked worldwide condemnation." The newspaper says that refusal of the Senate Republicans to heed many prominent treaty proponents -- including their own Henry Kissinger, secretary of state under Republican President Richard Nixon -- reveals "the lame duck this president has become."

Still, the Daily Telegraph says, the Senate was right to raise questions about the treaty, because its proponents failed fully to support their case.

WASHINGTON POST: The nation cannot afford to deal irresponsibly with serious foreign policy issues

In a commentary in the Washington Post, Robert Strauss, diplomat and former Democratic national chairman, agrees with the premise that difficult questions remain about the treaty. But he disputes the conclusion that the Senate displayed any wisdom or judgment. In his words: "I had looked forward to a first-rate Senate debate on (the treaty). Like other Americans, I needed to hear a great many voices of intelligence and reason on both sides of the issue." Strauss says he did not hear such voices.

The commentary says that partisan politics is both acceptable and even wholesome in a democracy. But, Strauss concludes: "Dealing with foreign policy issues as serious as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in a cavalier and irresponsible manner, as has been the case here, is a luxury this nation can no longer afford. I think it's time Americans say so."

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION: This was partisan opportunism

Columnist Tom Teepen, writing in the Atlanta Constitution and other newspapers of the U.S. Cox group, calls the vote "Mad Politics." He writes this: "It would be one thing if the treaty banning nuclear tests had been soberly studied and voted down over substantive misgivings, but that was not the case. This was partisan opportunism."

In Teepen's words: "Where national security is at stake, rejection over the doubts would at least be defensible. That did not happen. With enough fatal opposition committed, the GOP (that is, Republican) leadership rushed the treaty toward the floor with all the glee and decorum of a bunch of frat boys depantsing a pledge, before the (government of President Clinton) could defend itself."