06 October 1999
(Discussions continue on Capitol Hill about putting vote off) (1030) By Wendy S. Ross Department of State Washington File Correspondent Washington -- President Clinton made an impassioned plea for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at an October 6 event in the East Room of the White House as debate swirled on Capitol Hill on whether the Senate leadership would postpone the vote, scheduled for October 12 by the Senate Majority Leader. "From the time of President Eisenhower the United States has led the world in the cause of non-proliferation," Clinton said. "We have new serious proliferation threats that our predecessors have not faced, and it is all the more imperative that we do everything we possibly can to minimize the risks our children will face. "I thank the Senators who are here with us today and pray they can swell their ranks by next week," the President said. Attending the White House event were proponents of the treaty including Nobel Laureate physicists, U.S. nuclear laboratory heads, senators, and arms control experts from the current and former administrations. In addition to Clinton, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General John Shalikashvili and former Senator and astronaut John Glenn were among the group addressing the gathering. "It is essential that the United States stay in the non-proliferation lead in a comprehensive way," the President said. He asked: are we better off with or without the treaty? "The best way to constrain the danger of nuclear proliferation is to stop other countries from testing nuclear weapons. That is what this test ban treaty will do," he said. "The argument, it seems to me, doesn't hold water, that somehow we would be better off," without this treaty. "This is a tough fight without much time," Clinton said. This treaty, he pointed out, cannot go into effect until the United States and other identified nations ratify it. Both India and Pakistan have said they will sign the CTBT, Clinton said. But he asked, if the Senate defeats it, will these two South Asian nations sign? Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart and State Department Spokesman James Rubin told reporters that until Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Republican, Mississippi, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Democrat, South Dakota, work out an agreement on putting off a vote on the CTBT, the Clinton administration will assume that a vote will take place next week. But both spokesmen said it appears that many Senators -- both Republican and Democratic -- would prefer putting off a vote on the CTBT, until there has been more discussion of it. Lockhart and Rubin said the Republican-led Senate has not allowed enough time for Senators to debate a subject as important and technologically complicated as the CTBT. "We have indicated all the way through this process over the last three or four days ... that we don't think that the process is adequate for a treaty of this importance and of this complexity," Lockhart said. It's a process, he said, that no one is happy with. "But the process right now is the process and the leaders of the Senate, the majority and the minority, are in discussions to talk about the process and we'll see where that goes." "We've made the case all along that we thought that eight or nine days was inadequate for a real debate where Senators would have the chance to be briefed, to look at the issues, to understand the complexity of the issues. We continue to believe that to be the case." Lott scheduled a Senate vote on ratification a little more than a week after he put the historic arms control issue on the Senate calendar. The treaty was signed by President Clinton in 1996, but since then Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Jesse Helms, Republican from North Carolina, had kept it bottled up in his committee. Daschle told reporters that Clinton "supports the effort to postpone a vote until such time as we have the votes." Clinton "has made it clear that he wants this treaty passed, first and foremost. He feels strongly that this is one of the most important messages we can send around the world about nuclear testing and nuclear proliferation, and the sooner we do it, the better," Daschle said. "Short of that, if we don't have the votes now, I think the President feels equally as concerned, as many of us do, that the implications for defeat of the treaty would be extremely problematic not only for this Presidency, but probably for the next one," he said. Rubin said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent a letter October 5 to all members of the Senate urging their support for ratification of the treaty. The letter "goes through the reasons why this treaty is in the interest of the United States and why failure to ratify this treaty could harm our efforts to promote nonproliferation around the world," he said. Regarding the schedule in the Senate, "we have to operate on the assumption that this treaty is going to be voted on next Tuesday," Rubin said. He noted that Secretary Albright is scheduled to testify October 7 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On October 6, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton testified in support of the treaty before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Clinton invited a group of Senators to a White House dinner October 5 to discuss with them the importance of the treaty, as well as what would be the devastating effects if it were defeated, said Lockhart. "I think the upshot of last night's dinner here at the White House with Republicans and Democrats was a general consensus that this process is inadequate," the White House Press Secretary said. "But the process is the process and the Senate has put it in place," he added. "The vote is set for next Tuesday, and we're going to work as hard as we can between now and next Tuesday to get as many votes as we can."