Obama Official: Scant Hope of Congress Weighing Test-Ban Anytime Soon

Rachel Oswald, Global Security Newswire
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Rachel Oswald, Global Security Newswire
Sept. 13, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — Des­pite Pres­id­ent Obama’s hopes of see­ing a nuc­le­ar-test-ban treaty rat­i­fied dur­ing his second term, a seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial on Thursday was not op­tim­ist­ic about the near-term pro­spects for put­ting the ac­cord be­fore the Sen­ate for rat­i­fic­a­tion, say­ing it was a “del­ic­ate” mat­ter be­cause of par­tis­an ten­sions in Con­gress.

An­ita Friedt, the State De­part­ment’s prin­cip­al deputy as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for nuc­le­ar and stra­tegic policy, said “there really are no timelines set” for nam­ing a White House co­ordin­at­or to take charge of the ef­fort to se­cure Sen­ate ap­prov­al of the Com­pre­hens­ive Test Ban Treaty.

Mem­bers of the arms-con­trol com­munity have been ur­ging the White House to name an of­fi­cial who would be in charge of ral­ly­ing pub­lic and con­gres­sion­al sup­port for the CT­BT ac­cord in pre­par­a­tion for the treaty’s even­tu­al Sen­ate in­tro­duc­tion.

“I think there are good reas­ons for no timelines set for nam­ing a co­ordin­at­or,” Friedt told an audi­ence at a Wash­ing­ton event or­gan­ized by the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­ation, Green Cross In­ter­na­tion­al and the Kaza­kh­stan em­bassy — en­tit­ies that sup­port CT­BT rat­i­fic­a­tion. “Polit­ic­ally, we just have to test the wa­ters and see where we are.”

Obama views CT­BT rat­i­fic­a­tion as a core com­pon­ent of his arms-con­trol agenda. In a high-pro­file June speech in Ber­lin on his second-term nuc­le­ar policy goals, the pres­id­ent said, “We will work to build sup­port in the United States to rat­i­fy” the CT­BT ac­cord.

Giv­en that a two-thirds ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate would be re­quired for ap­prov­al of any treaty, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is seen as hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time win­ning enough Re­pub­lic­an sup­port to se­cure the test-ban’s rat­i­fic­a­tion in today’s sharply di­vided polit­ic­al cli­mate.

Lin­ton Brooks, a former head of the Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der Pres­id­ent George W. Bush, was pess­im­ist­ic about the CT­BT ac­cord’s pro­spects for be­ing ap­proved dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“It will be rat­i­fied in the United States when there is a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent who sup­ports it,” Brooks told at­tendees.

Brooks noted that the New START pact, which sets new lim­its for Rus­sia and the United States’ re­spect­ive de­ployed stra­tegic nuc­le­ar ar­sen­als, was the first arms-con­trol ac­cord to be ap­proved un­der a Demo­crat­ic pres­id­ent since Pres­id­ent Kennedy se­cured rat­i­fic­a­tion of the Lim­ited Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

“I think in this par­tis­an en­vir­on­ment it is go­ing to take a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent to bring this off,” he said. “I wish that wer­en’t true, but it prob­ably is.”

Still, Brooks, who served on a Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences pan­el that stud­ied tech­nic­al is­sues re­lated to a glob­al test-ban, said there is “no chance” of the United States re­sum­ing nuc­le­ar-weapons test­ing.

The Com­pre­hens­ive Test Ban Treaty has already been rat­i­fied by 159 coun­tries. However, for it to go in­to ef­fect, it still needs rat­i­fic­a­tion by eight ad­vanced nuc­le­ar na­tions: China, Egypt, In­dia, Ir­an, Is­rael, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

Re­it­er­at­ing past U.S. state­ments, Friedt said “the fact that the United States has not rat­i­fied should not hold oth­er coun­tries back from rat­i­fy­ing.”

The Kaza­kh­stani am­bas­sad­or to the United States, Kair­at Umarov, pushed back on that state­ment, say­ing that if Wash­ing­ton were to rat­i­fy, “I think the oth­er coun­tries will fol­low.”

As home to the former So­viet Uni­on’s now-shuttered test site at Semi­p­al­at­insk, which saw 456 atom­ic tri­als, Kaza­kh­stan has taken on a pub­lic role in call­ing for the glob­al ab­ol­i­tion of nuc­le­ar ex­plo­sions.

Ro­man Vassi­len­ko, am­bas­sad­or-at-large for the Kaza­kh­stani For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry, told at­tendees that get­ting to the point of treaty im­ple­ment­a­tion “is in­deed a mat­ter of trust … which the world un­for­tu­nately is lack­ing.”

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