Senators try to find exit strategy on nuclear test ban treaty vote
October 6, 1999
Web posted at: 6:10 p.m. EDT (2210 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate leaders said Wednesday they are still working toward an agreement to postpone a vote on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as ratification appears increasingly doomed.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) said he remained hopeful that he and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) could come to an agreement to put off next week's vote on the nuclear test ban measure.
"I think, still the view of most Democrats that it would be in our interest to avoid the vote if we can have some understanding about when and how we will consider the treaty in future months," Daschle said.
But Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) emerged Wednesday as a possible roadblock to face-saving postponement of a Senate vote.
Helms, a key power broker in treaty disputes, said the only way he will agree to postpone next week's scheduled vote is if President Bill Clinton makes a written request for withdrawal and concedes that it will not be considered for the rest of his presidential term.
"If the president does so, the treaty will effectively be dead," said Helms "The decision, you see, is the president's and the president's alone."
The CTBT would ban all nuclear testing for countries who sign and ratify the treaty. In order to drop the treaty from the Senate schedule next week, all 100 senators would have to agree. Helms said he will block any deal to postpone a treaty vote unless Clinton complies with his terms.
"Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle obviously realize that they don't have the votes to ratify the CTBT and so they are hoping to dictate the terms of their own surrender," said Helms. "They want us to say something like this, 'OK let's call it a draw,' and I say to them, 'That ain't going to happen.'"
Helms' conditions are similar to those laid out Tuesday by Lott.
The president did not directly respond to the Republicans' conditions at a Wednesday afternoon event to support the treaty, saying only that he was praying the senators who support ratification "can swell their ranks by next week."
Clinton, joined at the White House by former Sen. John Glenn and former Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili, argued that the U.S. must set an example for other countries on this issue.
"The message of not ratifying this treaty is: OK, we're not going to test, but you guys have a green light," Clinton said. "I don't think we ought to give a green light to our friends in India and Pakistan; to the Chinese or the Russians or to people who would be nuclear powers ... I think we ought to give them an outstretched hand and say: Let us show common restraint."
Earlier Wednesday Clinton complained about the GOP leadership's decision to rush the treaty to a floor vote. "After two long years of inaction, one week is very little time for considered action," the president said.
While the president didn't specifically address the issue of removing the measure from consideration, both Daschle and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) and has rejected Lott's condition and accused Republicans of making the treaty vote a partisan issue.
"We're prepared to go to the debate. We understand that the votes may not be there. We are virtually locked out of any Republican support, in large measure because they appear to be making this a party-line test vote," Daschle said.
"It is unreasonable to ask the president of the United States to say that he will oppose bringing up this treaty during the duration of his presidency," said Biden, "If that's the price that has to be paid, then we'll have a vote."
National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said Wednesday that while the White House is working under "the assumption that there is a vote on Tuesday," the administration would consider "a process mechanism that allows for senators to have more ... time for consideration ... that all sides can agree would help everybody make (an) honest judgment."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Virginia) said one reason the vote should be postponed is that proper intelligence reports on ramifications of a ban on nuclear testing will not be available for at least a year.
"When you're in a posture like that with regard to American security when there's a reasonable doubt that what we're asked to do is not in the interest of national security, we shouldn't do it," said Warner.
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of the few in his party openly for ratification of the treaty, said if it is defeated, it would send a terrible message to the world.
"If the Senate were to reject the treaty, then it would be highly publicized worldwide. It would be an open excuse for countries like India and Pakistan to continue nuclear testing which I think is very undesirable, destabilizing that area of the world," said Specter.
A spokesman for Lott said the international ramifications of rejecting the test ban treaty are outweighed by the fact that it is bad policy.
Defense Secretary William Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton appeared Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee to argue that the treaty is good policy.
"In short the world will be a safer place with the treaty than without it and it is in our national security interests to ratify the CTBT treaty," Shelton said.
Republicans and Democrats began discussion of pulling the treaty Tuesday as its pending failure became clear, and some Republican senators became increasingly uncomfortable with having to cast a vote against the measure at this time.
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), the lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said he told Clinton there are not the necessary 67 votes to ratify the treaty.
CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.