- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The international organization administering the nuclear test-ban treaty has warned that it would not be able to complete a global network of stations monitoring testing unless the United States, its largest contributor, pays millions of dollars in arrears.

Washington, which is responsible for nearly a quarter of the agency’s $100 million annual budget, lost its voting rights last week because of nonpayment, said officials in Vienna, Austria, where the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is based. More importantly, they added, the U.S. failure to pay might encourage other countries to withhold their dues as well.

“The total outstanding U.S. contributions are $38 million” since 2002, said spokeswoman Annika Thunborg.

The United States signed the treaty in 1996, during the Clinton administration, but has not ratified it. As a signatory, it must “discharge its financial obligations in full” within a year after receiving a bill, which it did not, she said.

The Bush administration, which opposes the treaty, is split over U.S. contribution to the organization. Most political appointees working on the issue appear unperturbed by the voting rights suspension and the Vienna group’s future.

They reject calls for a commitment not to test nuclear weapons, saying that, in order to maintain the U.S. stockpiles’ reliability, testing might be necessary at some point. In addition, they criticize the treaty’s verification mechanism as insufficient to prevent other countries from cheating.

Those officials also point out that the United States, as a signatory to the treaty, will keep receiving the data from the monitoring stations regardless of its arrears.

But intelligence officials and some civil servants point out that, because the United States does not have access to sensitive places such as Iran and China, the only way to monitor potential nuclear testing there — except for seismic activity — is for the CTBTO to build monitoring stations.

Unlike the United States, the organization has access to those and other countries because they have signed the treaty.

One official also said that having “our eyes and ears” in the organization would be beneficial, but no Americans can work at the CTBTO unless the arrears are paid.

“The U.S. failure to pay its share will hinder the CTBTO’s ability to complete construction and certify for use the remaining stations of the International Monitoring System,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

Even though 240 stations exist, another 80 still need to be built, including in “remote and strategic areas such as Turkmenistan, which borders Iran,” he said.

The CTBTO has credited one of its stations — near Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories — with detecting “trace amounts of unique radioactive material that confirmed” the North Korean test in October was nuclear, Mr. Kimball said.

Analysts said that seismic activity, which can be registered easily, is a good indicator that an explosion has taken place, but the CTBTO stations provide data based on atmospheric modeling that proves the test was nuclear.

The Bush administration decided in 2002 to withhold part of its annual contribution — about $800,000 — destined for on-site inspections, because of its reservations about their effectiveness. The annual U.S. dues are about $23 million.

In 2006, the State Department requested only $14 million, citing budget cuts across the board. The following year, the department meant to ask Congress for more money, but it missed a deadline by which it had to submit number revisions to the Office of Management and Budget, officials said.

The administration requested $18 million for 2008, but it has not been appropriated. It was not clear why the $14 million due last week and approved by Congress was not sent to Vienna to avoid the voting rights suspension.

Congressional officials said only a few people on Capitol Hill are familiar with the issue, and it is not likely that it will top anyone’s agenda with Iraq and immigration taking center stage.

But Mr. Kimball urged Congress to approve the $18 million request and to add $10 million so the United States can vote again in the CTBTO and more monitoring stations can be built.

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