Helms barrier to chemical arms pact Senate action stalled: Pressure from Clinton, Albright and Lott needed.

February 05, 1997

BY PUTTING an important treaty banning chemical weapons on hold, Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is putting President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Senate majority leader Trent Lott on the spot.

By April 29, this arms pact will come into force -- even if the United States has failed to ratify it. Washington would have no part in staffing or implementing the treaty's enforcement. The American chemical industry would be put at a competitive disadvantage.

What has yet to be shown is whether Mr. Clinton will carry out his promise to "fight" for the treaty. Or whether Ms. Albright's pleasant relationship with Senator Helms will pay off for the administration. Or whether Senator Lott, a treaty opponent in the past, will want to display some leadership on a matter affecting national security.

While Senator Helms is adamant in assailing the Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty pushed and negotiated by Republican Presdents Nixon, Reagan and Bush, his personal agenda places higher priority on reorganizing the State Department, reforming the United Nations and pushing ahead with a national missile defense system. Therein may lie the potential for some high-powered bargaining.

The North Carolina Republican allowed the chemical weapons pact to go to the Senate floor last September, when its bright prospects for ratification faded as GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole suddenly turned against it. His willingness to let the treaty go to the floor again will probably depend on concessions he can wrest from the president and on Senator Lott's judgment as to what is best for the country, his party and himself. This is where Ms. Albright could play a crucial role.

The Chemical Weapons Convention cannot stop rogue nations or terrorist groups from making poison gas weapons of mass destruction. But by enlisting the bulk of the international community in a compact to ban the manufacture, use or stockpiling of chemical arms, and by placing restrictions on trade in chemical materials by nations that spurn the pact, it could discourage the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons as well.

This treaty should be ratified by April 29. One obstreperous lawmaker should not be allowed to obstruct the nation's business.

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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