Test-ban treaty hopes fade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 October, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 October, 1999, 12:00am

FRANTIC lobbying was continuing across Washington last night as part of a last-ditch White House effort to ensure the survival of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to effectively end nuclear trials.

A fierce day of Senate debate ended with no clear agreement on delaying a ratification vote on Tuesday or Wednesday - a poll almost certain to doom the treaty.

To avoid defeat, officials are seeking a delay until a slightly more palatable version can be cobbled together.

The administration has flatly refused, however, to agree to Republican demands to put the matter off until President Bill Clinton is out of the White House and a new Congress in place in 2001.

Republicans are generally warning the treaty as it stands could weaken America's dominance while providing no effective guarantee that lesser nations will keep out of any future arms race.

'Don't allow us to get into a box that we can't get out of,' Nebraskan Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, warned the Senate. 'It is irresponsible. The treaty will surely go down. Don't rush something that has dire consequences for the world that is driven by a political dynamic.' A desperate Mr Clinton sounded at times angry and emotional as he appealed for the issue to be free from politics and a delay agreed upon.

'We don't have the votes,' he acknowledged during a visit to the Canadian city of Ottawa. 'Let them take it down,' he said of his rivals, 'but also agree on the legitimate process to take this out of politics. I will not criticise them so long as they are genuinely working through the issues.' While 154 nations are signatory to the treaty, it can only take effect if it is ratified by 44 nuclear-capable countries, including the US. So far only 26 of those states have ratified it.