In a renewed attempt to build political support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, President Clinton has enlisted retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili to lead a task force that will explore ways of making the treaty acceptable to the Senate, administration officials said yesterday.
Officials described the initiative, due to be announced today by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, as a low-key effort to address the objections and concerns raised last October, when the Senate rejected the treaty 51 to 48.
The rejection marked the Clinton administration's biggest foreign policy defeat on Capitol Hill and a devastating blow to a pact that has been at the center of global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.
With leading Senate Republicans still fiercely opposed to reconsidering the treaty in Clinton's final year, a senior State Department official said it is doubtful the administration would force the issue. But the official said action now to begin to forge a new political consensus would be helpful to the next administration and should reassure allied governments that were upset by the Senate's refusal to ratify the treaty.
The selection of Shalikashvili, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 to 1997, is clearly intended to command the respect particularly of Senate conservatives who raised some of the strongest objections to the treaty. During his tenure as chairman, the Army general oversaw a reexamination of U.S. nuclear doctrine.
Opposition to the treaty centered on concerns that compliance by others would be impossible to verify, and U.S. efforts to ensure the reliability of its own nuclear stockpile would be obstructed. But the vote, which fell largely along party lines, also was widely seen as reflecting the collapse of bipartisanship in a Congress characterized by 6 1/2 years of bad relations between Clinton and the Republicans. In the bitter aftermath, Clinton accused opponents of political partisanship and militant isolationism.
At least several Republican senators who voted against ratification have expressed discomfort with the outcome, suggesting room for a possible compromise, provided the administration agreed to work more closely with Congress. They have called for a bipartisan effort to examine concerns.