Top Clinton administration officials hit the talk-show circuit yesterday in an all-out effort to persuade the Senate to delay this week's vote on a nuclear test ban treaty, warning that its rejection would damage U.S. prestige and hinder non-proliferation efforts.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a leading foe of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, strongly opposed postponing the vote, scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday, but indicated that efforts to delay it through a parliamentary maneuver might succeed.
Were the treaty rejected, there is serious danger "we would be seen as being frivolous or cavalier by many other nations" on arms control and have a hard time persuading other countries not to engage in nuclear testing, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Cohen was joined on the show by Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said: "If the national security were in any way going to be damaged, the Joint Chiefs would never recommend that we ratify this treaty."
"We have stopped testing unilaterally. . . . The point here is that we need a tool that will prevent the other countries from testing," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said on ABC's "This Week." "We lose nothing and we gain the possibility of ending this kind of testing."
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, on "Fox News Sunday," said the administration was prepared to deal with senators' concerns about assuring both the viability of U.S. nuclear stockpiles and compliance by other countries and urged more time to do so.
Kyl, also on Fox, said the treaty is unverifiable and "not of the same caliber" as previous arms pacts, and should be defeated.
But Kyl said it is not clear whether the Senate will vote this week. "There are some procedural shenanigans that could be engaged in by the other side if they want to delay this, and it's possible that they could obtain a bare majority to do that," he said, referring to a maneuver planned by Democrats to avert a ratification vote if they can pick up support from a half-dozen or more Republicans.
Many Republicans, including treaty foes, have said they do not want to have to vote this week. But the GOP and the White House are at odds over whether Clinton should ask in writing that the treaty be shelved and not brought up again until he is out of office in 2001, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) has demanded. It is not clear how many Republicans would break ranks if their leaders continue to insist on a vote.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, joined in urging that the vote be delayed, saying he would vote against the treaty if the vote were held now. He shrugged off the GOP demand for a written promise from Clinton. "I think a handshake and a commitment is the way we should do business in Washington," he said.
Treaty backers can count only 47 sure votes for the pact, 20 short of the two-thirds majority required for ratification. It has been signed by 154 countries but ratified by only about one-third of those. Republicans delayed action for two years, then, having long been prodded by Democrats, called for a quick vote, secure in the knowledge that they had the votes to kill the treaty.