Senators resist ban on chemical weapons Republicans could block ratification of treaty signed by Bush in 1993

September 12, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- An international treaty that would ban the production and use of chemical weapons has run into surprising difficulty in the Senate, where conservative Republicans may be able to block its ratification this week.

When the Bush administration signed the treaty in January 1993, Senate approval seemed almost certain. But with floor debate on the treaty set to begin today, all bets are off on the vote.

Treaty opponents -- led by Republican Jesse Helms of North Carolina -- are using a variety of arguments against it, ranging from concerns about its effectiveness in limiting the use of chemical weapons to claims that thousands of U.S. businesses could be subjected to burdensome regulations and international inspections.

The Chemical Manufacturers Association, which represents the businesses likely to be most affected, supports the treaty and is lobbying hard to get it passed.

Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons policy analyst at the nonpartisan Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, said she is puzzled by the strength of the last-minute Senate opposition to the treaty.

"They are ignoring the advice of the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the chemical industry. And how they can do that dumbfounds me," she said.

Owen Kean, a spokesman for the chemical association, said, "There is an undercurrent of just plain political calculation" running through the opposition.

He said some Republicans, tired of seeing President Clinton get credit for welfare reform and health insurance legislation, don't want him to get any boost from a treaty to ban chemical weapons.

The vote is likely to come today or tomorrow. Because the treaty requires approval by two-thirds of the Senate, opponents need only 34 votes to block it.

The treaty has been signed by 160 countries and ratified by 63 of those. It is to go into effect once 65 countries have ratified it.

The treaty also would require the United States to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile within 10 years and allow it to apply for a five-year extension.

Although the treaty was negotiated by the Reagan and Bush administrations, several Republican former Cabinet heads have come out in opposition to it -- including former Defense Secretaries Dick Cheney and Caspar W. Weinberger, and former U.N. Representative Jeane J. Kirkpatrick.

They argue that the treaty would be hard to verify and that some "dangerous" nations, such as North Korea and Libya, have not signed the treaty and would not be bound by it.

Treaty supporters say that, by requiring the destruction of existing weapons and by controlling commerce in chemicals that can be used in manufacturing chemical weapons, the treaty is designed to make it harder for dangerous substances to come into the wrong hands.

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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