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Clinton Will Enforce Test Ban Treaty Despite Senate Defeat

By Charles Babington
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Washington

President Clinton led a Democratic effort Thursday to turn a stinging policy defeat into a political advantage, vowing to keep fighting for the nuclear test ban treaty soundly rejected by the Senate and warning that voters will view Republican leaders as out of step with national priorities.

At an hour-long White House news conference, Clinton said his administration will continue to refrain from testing nuclear weapons, and he predicted the United States will ratify the pact someday. But he also warned that if an anti-treaty president is elected -- an indirect reference to Republican candidate George W. Bush -- then Russia, China, Pakistan and India will renew testing of nuclear bombs.

Bush, the Texas governor, has said he opposes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Republican-controlled Senate rejected Wednesday night mostly along party lines.

Even as Senate Republicans savored their most decisive victory over Clinton in a high-profile foreign policy matter, Vice President Gore and other Democrats signaled they will try to turn the issue against GOP candidates next year, portraying them as captives of a hard-right contigency that threw away a chance to promote a safer world.

“This vote goes against the tide of history,” Gore said in the first television ads of his 2000 presidential campaign, to air this week in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally on CNN.

During the Senate’s consideration of the test ban treaty, Clinton and others had said it should be decided on substantive, not political grounds. Thursday, however, the issue appeared almost completely politicized, as Clinton devoted much of his hour-long White House news conference to attacking Republicans for rejecting the pact.

“Hard-line Republicans irresponsibly forced a vote against the...treaty,” Clinton said, calling it “partisan politics of the worst kind.” He acknowledged that nuclear disarmament is hardly a hot topic for most Americans, but warned that voters in the 2000 elections may take issue with the GOP’s domestic and foreign agenda.