White House Plays for Time on Test Ban Treaty

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Suddenly, it's 1986 all over again in Washington, and terms like "Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty" and "verification" are getting play they haven't seen since the days when Edmund Morris had only just met lifelong pal Ronald Reagan. Readers could be forgiven for being a bit confused — didn't we take care of that already? — but in fact the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has been in limbo ever since President Clinton signed it in 1996, held up by Senate Republicans led by Jesse Helms who have some legitimate concerns about how compliance with the treaty can be verified and are also just a little suspicious of internationally imposed restrictions on the U.S. military. After three years of stalling, Trent Lott, sensing a political opportunity, suddenly reversed course last week and scheduled a vote for Tuesday. Faced with a vote it couldn't win, the White House played for time. On Sunday the troops went out to the talk shows to make the case for postponing even longer. "What we have now is the need to explain it to the Senate, to the Congress," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said on Fox, which seems a little odd considering the administration has already had three years to make its case.

Still, it's probably in everybody's interest to stall. Republicans won't look good if they actually succeed in defeating ratification, which would effectively scuttle the whole treaty and give the green light to India and Pakistan to continue their game of nuclear-test chicken. And it doesn't help the U.S. image overseas if its president is seen as writing checks his Congress won't cash.