Obama administration to push for test ban treaty
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration said on Tuesday it was preparing a push for approval of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, arguing that Washington no longer needs to conduct nuclear tests but needs to stop other countries from doing so.
Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said a legally binding global ban on testing would help pressure states like Iran from engaging in illicit nuclear activities and discourage an arms race in Asia, where rivals India and Pakistan have conducted nuclear explosions.
She declined to give a precise time when President Barack Obama would seek the Senate vote on the treaty, which the chamber rejected in 1999 when Bill Clinton was president.
There is widespread international support for the test ban treaty, which has been ratified by more than 140 countries, but it cannot come into effect because some nuclear powers like the United States and China have not ratified it. Proponents say U.S. ratification could help get other countries with nuclear programs to sign on.
In the coming months, the administration would seek to educate the Senate and public on the treaty's merits, Tauscher said. When the Obama administration does seek a vote, "we intend to win that vote," Tauscher said in remarks to the Arms Control Association in Washington.
"Whatever it takes to make that argument, and how long it takes to make that argument, the president is committed to do that," she said.
Opponents of the treaty argued in 1999 that a permanent end to testing could erode the reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Some questioned whether cheaters on a test ban treaty could be detected.
OFFICIAL: TREATY ESPECIALLY HELPFUL IN ASIA
The United States has not conducted a nuclear test in nearly 20 years, Tauscher said, and no longer needs to do so, meaning that "we give up nothing by ratifying the CTBT."
Meanwhile, there have been advances in systems that can detect tests that may be conducted by countries hoping to develop nuclear weapons or advance their nuclear capabilities, she said.
"Nowhere would these (treaty) constraints be more relevant than in Asia, where you see states building up and modernizing their forces," Tauscher said. A global ban on testing "would help reduce the chances of a potential regional arms race,' she said.
Support of two-thirds of the Senate is required for ratification of the treaty. After Clinton failed to get the test ban treaty approved, his successor George W. Bush never resubmitted it.
Obama has made clear he sees the test ban treaty as a step toward his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, like the new START arms reduction treaty that the Senate approved last year.
Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, told the Arms Control Association that he favors the test ban treaty and thought the Senate should act on it before 2012 elections, "but I don't have a high degree of confidence that we will."
Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican who led opposition to the test ban treaty in 1999, told reporters this week that he was still firmly against it. Kyl also voted against the new START, which was approved in December by a vote of 71-26.
(Editing by Bill Trott)
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