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On to test ban treaty

The Obama administration next plans to reintroduce the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that was voted down by the Senate in 1999 after the Senate completes work on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), according to a classified State Department cable made public this week by WikiLeaks.

The May 13, 2009, cable from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations quotes Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, as outlining plans to work with senators “who were not members” when the treaty was defeated in October 1999 so that facts about the test ban treaty “were presented clearly.”

“It would be hard work, but it was achievable,” she was quoted as saying in the cable marked “confidential.”

Ms. Gottemoeller said senators voted down the treaty in 1999 over questions of verification and whether the U.S. nuclear stockpile could be maintained without testing.

Both issues were addressed during Senate debate this week on New START.

According to the cable, the administration plans to use a conference held by the U.S. Strategic Command on the test ban treaty and nuclear weapons reliability to press its case.

“She noted that the U.S. voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing did not affect the confidence the United States has in its stockpiles and the overall consensus was that acceding to the CTBT probably would not put the reliability of the U.S. stockpile at risk,” the cable said.

Ms. Gottemoeller also said the administration would make sure it had “all the votes necessary before it formally requested the Senate’s advice and consent” on the treaty.

Later, Ms. Gottemoeller said that in the 10 years since the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was voted down, progress has been made on verification. “There were a large number of new senators since the last time the treaty was considered, and the administration would work to educate them on the issues,” the cable said.

However, critics of arms control say verification of nuclear tests remains poor. North Korea’s two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, were not immediately confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies despite billions of dollars spent annually monitoring foreign nuclear programs.

Capitol Hill next year will have 10 freshman Republican senators, many of whom are skeptical of arms control agreements.

Russian linkage

One of the key arguments made by American proponents of New START is that the language in the treaty’s preamble linking strategic offensive and defensive weapons is nonbinding.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been leading the fight for ratification, said during floor debate that the treaty’s preamble is “a component of the treaty that has no legal, binding impact whatsoever.”

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