Chemical weapons treaty to be debated next week
Helms, Biden disagree on 5 proposed changesApril 17, 1997
Web posted at: 8:43 p.m. EDT (0043 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate finally will debate a controversial global treaty outlawing chemical weapons next week, under an agreement reached Thursday.
After lengthy negotiations with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, senators voted unanimously to begin the debate next Wednesday. A vote on the treaty, already ratified by more than 70 countries, is expected Thursday.
Talks between Helms, a foe of the treaty, and Sen. Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the foreign relations panel, produced agreement on 28 conditions, declarations and understandings that would be attached to the document.
But the two remain at odds on five other conditions, including amendments that proponents of the treaty say would hinder U.S. participation in efforts to control chemical weapons. One of those conditions would link U.S. participation to Russian ratification of the pact.
Two-thirds majority needed for ratification
To be ratified, the treaty, which is strongly backed by President Clinton, would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Helms and other opponents are expected to propose amendments on the Senate floor that the Clinton administration opposes.
The treaty imposes a global ban on the use, production, transfer or stockpiling of poison gas and other chemical or biological weapons and sets up international inspections and sanctions.
On Thursday, three former U.S. defense secretaries urged the Senate to ratify the treaty, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention or CWC. The three were William Perry, Harold Brown and Elliott Richardson.
"We firmly believe that U.S. ratification of the CWC will contribute significantly to the security interests of the United States and the safety of our armed forces," the three wrote in a statement.
Current Defense Secretary William Cohen, a former Republican senator, also backs the treaty. But four other former defense chiefs -- Dick Cheney, Caspar Weinberger, James Schlesinger and Donald Rumsfeld -- oppose it, calling it unenforceable.
Senate approves bill for weapons possession
On an almost party-line vote, the Senate Thursday approved a separate GOP-backed bill that would set fines and prison terms for anyone acquiring or possessing chemical or biological weapons in the United States.
Democrats said the bill was unnecessary and would actually weaken laws in some areas. "Clearly, it is not a substitute" for the treaty, Biden said.
The bill passed 53-44, with Connecticut's Joe Liberman the only Democrat voting for it.
Reuters contributed to this report.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.