Arms tightly folded, mouth set, foot tapping, that's Uncle Sam as he grimly awaits the opening of a U.N. meeting about a possible ban on testing all nuclear weapons.

Ever since the idea of a parley was broached, the Bush administration did everything in its power to stop it. First it sent its ambassadors to protest to the governments of the 41 countries who requested the meeting. The diplomats told the leaders that we regarded the convening of the conference as "an unfriendly act."

Last August in Geneva, at the international non-proliferation conference, when Mexico pushed for a statement expressing approval of a comprehensive test ban as an amendment to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1962, the United States blocked the statement rather than tolerate any favorable mention of the ban.

With the two-week conference about to open, U.S. representatives at the United Nations have been spreading the word that this is absolutely the end of such nonsense: we will neither pay for nor attend any such meeting in the future.

It is an odd posture for a country that carries on so much about non-proliferation. President Bush called it "one of the greatest risks to the survival of mankind."

In a letter to the president, Gerard C. Smith, who negotiated arms control treaties for Nixon, Ford and Carter and is chairman of the Washington Council for Non-Proliferation, called the ban "the single strongest measure available for stemming the spread of the atomic scourge." President Kennedy's science adviser, Jerome Wiesner, former U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency chief Paul Warnke and several other notables signed the letter. It has had no visible effect.

Nothing has, and that, in a way, is the point of the futile conference. Says Aaron Tovich, head of Parliamentarians Global Action, a prime mover in convening the conference, "It's the world's nations calling the U.S. on the carpet."

None of the countries Bush really cares about joined in the call for the ban. NATO nations, knowing the depths of U.S. feeling on the matter, have declined to take us on. But, Tovich points out, they are not looking forward to the exposure that will occur at the U.N. conference, putting them in hot water with their anti-nuclear constituencies.

It is doubtful that Bush can be shamed into modifying his position, even though the crisis in the gulf and Saddam Hussein's attempts to obtain a nuclear capability would offer the perfect opportunity to think new thoughts.

Bomb-banners -- which include old reliable peaceniks, former office-holders, Third World countries and uppity Latin American nations -- are not his core constituency. Spurgeon Keeny, president of the Arms Control Association, says that opposition to the test ban is "the litmus test for conservatives, the way 'Star Wars' used to be during the Reagan years."

The hard right clings to the idea that our nuclear arsenal must never be challenged or limited in any way. As long as we go on testing, they have some shred of the Cold War to warm their hearts. The prostration of the former adversary is nothing to them. They seize upon the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze as a new rationale for not trying to cap the development of nuclear weapons. "Who will come next?" they ask. "It could be someone who would renew the arms race."

The official line is that we must keep on testing to ensure the "reliability and safety" of our weapons.

Last year, we conducted eight underground tests, and an additional one with the British. The Thatcher government opposed any ban.

The Soviets, who observed a unilateral test ban for two years, tested once in 1990. Tovich says that when a group of parliamentarians and U.S. congressmen called on Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin in November, he said he was under heavy pressure from both sides, and that if the United States would show any inclination to stop, it would "tip the balance" for the anti-test faction.

Backers will press for no vote on the comprehensive test ban per se. The most likely action will be a roll call vote on calling another conference to pursue verification and sanctions.

The administration hopes the meeting will be one of the best kept secrets of the New Year. They are dispatching the deputy general counsel of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency to represent them at the affair. Her name is Mary Elizabeth Hoinkes, and they seem reasonably confident her name will not become a household word.