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Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 00:16 GMT 01:16 UK

World: Americas

Clinton fights for nuclear test ban

Republicans say nuclear weapons need to be tested

The Clinton administration is fighting for ratification of a treaty banning nuclear tests amid continued Republican Party hostility.

The BBC's Richard Lister: "President Clinton is fighting a political battle with global consequences"
President Bill Clinton took the lead in a White House speech to an audience of Nobel laureates in physics and retired military leaders.

He warned that if the Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty it could undermine American efforts to persuade others to abandon nuclear testing.

He said: "I don't think we ought to give a green light to India and Pakistan, to the Chinese or the Russians, or to people who would be nuclear powers."

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The Republican Party has blocked ratification for the past two years, but has now agreed to hold a vote on the issue next Tuesday.

Public hearings ahead of the vote are already under way. Observers say the Republican majority in the Senate means it is highly unlikely that the treaty will be ratified at present.

But Mr Clinton is determined that the US should go ahead.

"I will continue to aggressively argue to the Senate and to the American people that this is in our national interest," he told journalists.

"I fervently believe ... that this treaty will restrain the spread of nuclear weapons, while enabling us to maintain the effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal."

Defence Secretary William Cohen: "Proliferation ... can and should be avoided"
Defence Secretary William Cohen said: "If the Senate rejects the treaty, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is more likely. It also poses a serious challenge to our arms reduction goals."

Mr Clinton's spokesman, Joe Lockhart, said there was a possibility that Tuesday's vote would be delayed.

He said a group of Republican and Democratic Party senators had agreed that the time available for proper debate was inadequate.

Verification worries

Opponents of ratification say the treaty would not stop the nuclear ambitions of countries such as Iran and North Korea and question whether the treaty is verifiable.

Washington Correspondent Richard Lister: "President Clinton has a major fight on his hands"
They have also raised questions about the risk of other signatories continuing to carry out small undetectable tests in secret, and have argued that a test ban would damage efforts to maintain the safety and reliability of the US nuclear arsenal.

In his speech, Mr Clinton said that if the treaty came into force it would create a network of more than 300 new monitoring stations to verify compliance and enable on-site inspections of suspect test sites.

The United States is one of more than 154 signatories to the CTBT - but only 51 have ratified it.

Before CTBT comes into force, it must be ratified by all 44 countries in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament that have nuclear reactors or research programmes.

Of those countries, 18 including the US have not yet ratified the treaty.

US example

The United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Louise Frechette has called on more countries to ratify the treaty, which was launched three years ago.

She said further delay in bringing it into force would increase the risk that nuclear testing would resume.

Germany and Japan, opening a review conference on the nuclear test ban treaty, urged the US to set an example to the world.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: "Ratification in Washington would send a strong signal in favour of the treaty."

All 45 Democratic Party senators have said they will support ratification, but a two-thirds majority is required in the Senate - which means that another 22 members will have to be persuaded to back it.

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