Clinton extends ban on nuclear tests, calls on other nations to follow suit

July 04, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton announced yesterday that he will extend for at least 15 months the current moratorium on underground nuclear testing, making it possible that this year could be the first since 1945 in which there is no nuclear explosion anywhere on the planet.

In extending the ban at least through September 1994, the president called upon other nuclear powers to join in resisting the urge to undertake a nuclear test. "If, however, this moratorium is broken by another nation, I will direct the Department of Energy to prepare to conduct additional tests, while seeking approval to do so from Congress," he warned in his weekly radio address.

Mr. Clinton's address was heavy with symbolism, coming as it did on the eve of a 10-day trip that will culminate at the economic summit in Japan, the only country to have been under nuclear attack. In 1945, the United States began the nuclear weapons age by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In Moscow, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin assured a high-ranking U.S. envoy during a Kremlin meeting that his country would continue to observe its own test freeze as long as the United States and other nuclear powers honor theirs.

Last year, Congress imposed a nine-month moratorium as part of legislation directing that a worldwide ban on nuclear testing be negotiated by 1996. After the moratorium's expiration last Thursday, the legislation would have allowed 15 nuclear tests before the 1996 deadline.

Military officials argued publicly that the resumption of testing is crucial to ensuring the safety and reliability of the weapons. However, pressure had been mounting in Congress to delay further tests on the theory that doing so would enhance the chances of negotiating the comprehensive ban.

If U.S. testing was to continue, it was feared, other nations would resume their own tests, making it more difficult to persuade Third World nations to cooperate in halting the spread of nuclear weapons.

Four countries in addition to the United States are recognized officially as members of the so-called "nuclear club."

France has not conducted any tests since declaring a nine-month moratorium in April 1992. However, its new conservative government is considering resuming them.

Britain, which conducts its tests at the U.S. underground site in Nevada, had hoped that Mr. Clinton would lift the moratorium, because it prevents British testing as well.

China, which is considered the nation most likely to resume testing, has not exploded a nuclear weapon since last Sept. 25, two days after the most recent U.S. test.

Mr. Yeltsin has prolonged a ban on Russian nuclear explosions that dates to October 1991, when it was proclaimed by then-Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Calls for a global end to tests were a staple of Mr. Gorbachev's "new thinking" in foreign policy, and in October 1992 Mr. Yeltsin said he was also ready at any time for talks on an international treaty outlawing testing.

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