- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2009

Test ban treaty sought

The Obama administration has launched a new effort to win ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, known as CTBT, which was voted down by the Senate in 1999.

The effort is being led by Jon Wolfsthal, an arms-control specialist at two think tanks until he became a national-security aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a staffer on the White House National Security Council in January.

Mr. Wolfsthal was making the rounds in the Senate on Wednesday, checking to see if the administration can drum up the 67 votes needed - a two-thirds majority - to ratify the treaty, which prevents underground nuclear tests.

Congressional and administration officials said the CTBT ratification effort is part of the administration’s new emphasis on reaching arms-control agreements. The officials said the intelligence community is working on a National Intelligence Estimate that the administration hopes will bolster ratification efforts, and a federal scientific study also is being done as part of the push. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the record.

A White House spokesman had no immediate comment.

The treaty was rejected on a party-line 51-48 vote in the Senate on Oct. 13, 1999. Republicans opposed the treaty, saying the pact would undermine national security by encouraging nuclear proliferation and preventing the United States from ensuring the reliability of its nuclear stockpile.

Democrats favored the treaty as a needed arms-control agreement to prevent nuclear testing.

Republicans at the time did not have the 60 votes needed to kill the treaty. As a result, the pact was tabled in a procedure that allows it to be brought up again for a future vote.

President Obama said during the presidential campaign that he planned to seek CTBT ratification as a high priority.

The treaty was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in September 1996 but has not entered into force because nine states are needed to ratify it, including the United States and China.

The United States signed the treaty and has imposed a moratorium on nuclear testing.

However, a blue-ribbon commission set up by the Pentagon recently identified major flaws in the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal, which has called into question whether future testing of new nuclear weapons may be needed, according to sources familiar with the classified report.

The administration hopes to push through the CTBT ratification before seeking ratification of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The 1991 START expired Dec. 5, and its several hundred pages of provisions were replaced temporarily by a 45-word joint U.S.-Russian statement saying both countries will continue to abide by its terms.

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