Trent Lott's Treaty

Chemical Arms Ban: Senate Republican Leader Makes His Foreign Policy Mark.

April 28, 1997

IN THE END it became Trent Lott's treaty. The Senate Republican leader was key to ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. After intricate negotiations with an administration that considered the pact a supreme test of President Clinton's world leadership, Senator Lott defied fellow conservatives and thus aligned himself with an internationalist Republican position that goes back to the early post-war era of Arthur Vandenberg.

The Mississippi Republican warned the U.S. would suffer "real and lasting consequences" if it rejected a treaty in which the credibility of Presidents Bush and Clinton was at stake. But in asserting that the country would be "only marginally better off" with the hard-to-verify chemical weapons ban, he kept his distance from Mr. Clinton's soaring rhetoric.

For Mr. Lott, who has emerged as a GOP presidential prospect in his 10 months as majority leader, this was the first big foreign policy test of his career. Ever the tough, suave bargainer, he used it to extract important concessions on a host of arms control issues that the administration had hoped to implement without involving the Senate. And after taking on Republican hard-liners who once counted him as one of their own, he openly challenged Mr. Clinton to show "similar courage" in dealing with his Democratic base. "Will he be prepared to do the same thing for the budget?" he asked.

The senator's question was a tantalizing hint that the negotiations that led to ratification of the chemical weapons treaty late Friday might well have broken the political deadlock that has paralyzed Capitol Hill. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright induced Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms to let the pact go to the Senate floor. And national security adviser Samuel Berger dealt with Mr. Lott in drafting 28 reservations the White House accepted to protect American interests.

The new international convention, which goes into effect tomorrow, has its roots in the horrible poison gas trench warfare of World War I. The Geneva Convention of 1925 was successful in inhibiting belligerents from using such weaponry in World War II. But the world today is littered with stockpiles of these deadly agents, especially in the arsenals of rogue states, and the treaty's intent is to build international pressure for their destruction by 2007. Though the dual nature of many chemicals causes enormous policing problems, Senator Lott was correct -- and perhaps even presidential -- in ensuring the treaty's ratification. His decision was a reminder that this country will not shirk its global responsibilities.

Pub Date: 4/28/97

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