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President Clinton urges test ban treaty action in Senate; cites huge public support in new poll


WASHINGTON, July 20�In a statement issued today from the Rose Garden, President Clinton urgently called upon the Senate to ratify a treaty that would ban future nuclear test explosions and make it more difficult for new nations to develop nuclear weapons. 

Supporting his call to action, the President cited recent statements of bipartisan support in the Senate, along with a new public opinion poll released today showing that more than 80 percent of the American public supports the test ban treaty. He urged the Senate not to block a treaty which has both widespread support in the U.S. and around the world. 

"Think of it," he said, "if the U.S. fails to act, the treaty cannot enter into force in any country in the world." This is because the treaty's provisions require approval of existing nuclear powers before it can take effect.

Around the country, hundreds of nonprofit groups have been calling on the Senate to ratify the test ban treaty for the past two years, while it has been logjammed in Committee.  Most recently, a letter from 12 national environmental groups called for Senate approval and the measure enjoys broad support from most religious and interfaith groups.

According to a spokesperson for 20/20 Vision, a grassroots peace and environment group based in Washington, D.C., "This is just the latest example of how a Senate with its head in the sand and its hands in corporate pockets is ignoring the will of the people on handguns, the environment and now nuclear disarmament."

"The only reason for this delay has been the political stubbornness of one powerful man, Sen. Jesse Helms, who continues to hold the treaty hostage in his committee for his own narrow political reasons," said 20/20 Vision Executive Director James Wyerman.  "It's absolutely outrageous that one parochial man can single-handedly obstruct a measure that's essential to our nation's security and that's supported by such a huge margin of the public."

Although President Clinton signed the treaty on September 22, 1996, and it has already been ratified by 41 countries (a total of 152 have signed), the U.S. remains an obstacle to its implementation until the Senate takes action to ratify it. Unless the Senate ratifies the treaty the U.S. will not be permitted to participate in the first meeting of the ratifying parties, now scheduled for this fall in Vienna.

"It's a national embarrassment that the U.S. initiated this treaty many years ago and is now too twisted up in its own political machinations to take advantage of this opportunity to close the deal," said Wyerman. "This has been on the table since the Eisenhower era, enjoying support of Republican and Democratic presidents alike, but current Senate leadership is stuck in its own political mud.  No wonder people are calling for change."

Nuclear tests in space, oceans and on land have been banned by international treaty since the 1960s, but a loophole still allows underground tests.  An international alarm sounded in May of last year when India and Pakistan resumed underground nuclear tests.  These concerns have been exacerbated by recent leaks of nuclear weapons design information to China, raising questions about whether the best remedy is enhanced defense or prevention . 

Observers like 20/20 Vision are calling for "an ounce of prevention through the nuclear test ban, rather than wasted billions on systems like national missile defense that don't work." Even for countries that possess design blueprints for nuclear weapons, developing actual weapons capability is wholly dependent on actual tests.

Said Wyerman, "Without nuclear tests, new nations can't develop nuclear weapons.  It's that simple.  Senate leadership just doesn't get it, though the public does. If the public cares enough about this�and we think they do�they can make the Senate do the right thing.  And if it doesn't, we need a new Senate."

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