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Clinton to Push for Passage Of Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

By Tyler Marshall
Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration announced Tuesday it will make ratification of a global treaty banning nuclear testing a priority for 1999, a move that launches President Clinton on a collision course with key Republicans already sworn in as jurors in his Senate impeachment trial.

Speaking at an international conference on nonproliferation here, national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said Clinton will press the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

"This treaty is in America's national interest," Berger said. "If the Senate rejected or failed to act on the test ban treaty, we would throw the door open to regional nuclear arms races and a much more dangerous world."

The United States signed the pact in 1996, and Clinton submitted it to the Senate for ratification the following year. It has languished there since, largely because of opposition from powerful Republicans, including Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C).

Conservative Republicans oppose the treaty, much as they have resisted other arms-control conventions, in part because they are convinced that other nations will circumvent its restrictions, leaving America at a disadvantage.

In another move aimed at reducing proliferation, Berger announced Tuesday that the United States has imposed economic sanctions against three Russian institutions accused of assisting Iran in its quest for weapons of mass destruction.

The trio the Moscow Aviation Institute, the Scientific Research and Design Institute of Power Technology and the D. Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology reportedly have supplied Iran with technology and training that could be used for weapons development.

White House spokesman David Leavy said Clinton will make "a forceful presentation" for ratification of the test ban treaty during his State of the Union speech later this month. Senior members of Clinton's foreign policy team will then try to increase pressure on the Senate by pushing for ratification in speeches and in testimony on Capitol Hill.

"The message will be that not to ratify would damage national security," Leavy said.

But in a speech Tuesday to the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, former Vice President Dan Quayle underscored the opposition to ratification, calling on the Senate to reject the pact.

With polls showing public support for a test ban running as high as 75 percent, however, there are signs that congressional Republicans risk ending up yet again on the short end of a fight with Clinton in the court of public opinion.

The urgency for ratification increased last year after nuclear tests by longtime foes India and Pakistan raised the prospect of a regional arms race in one of the poorest, most densely populated parts of the world.

Berger said the administration is pressing for ratification by next September, the date of a planned inaugural conference among the nations that have signed the treaty. Because only those nations that have ratified the pact can make decisions at the conference, failure by the Senate to act would leave the United States on the sidelines.