- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Senate opponents of the nuclear test-ban treaty face “a new ballgame” 10 years after they rejected the global pact, the treaty's chief said Tuesday.

If the United States and other key nations fail again to ratify the pact, the world would become a place with “more fissile material in more facilities with more people to handle it, representing a risk of [nuclear] terrorism,” said Tibor Toth, executive secretary of the treaty's preparatory commission.

“Probably what you will have to do is revisit the benefits of the treaty from a wider perspective, from a post-2001 viewpoint,” Mr. Toth told the Associated Press.

The Hungarian diplomat was in Washington to meet with Senate staff and take part in a conference on nuclear nonproliferation, organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The conference was dominated by talk of President Obama's speech Sunday in Prague, where he laid out plans to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama said he aimed to “immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” or CTBT.

Although a 1963 treaty bans nuclear tests in the atmosphere, oceans and space, the CTBT would ban all nuclear weapons tests everywhere, including underground, both as a step toward disarmament and to block weapons proliferation.

In 1999, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected the pact almost entirely along party lines with a 48-51 vote. Approval requires a two-thirds majority.

Opponents objected to the treaty's monitoring system being unable to detect a cheater's small underground nuclear test, saying the soundness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal would come under question if tests could not be conducted.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said late last month that he had begun the process of bringing the treaty back before the Senate.

Pakistan and the United States are two of nine nations whose ratification is still required for the test-ban treaty to take effect. China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran and Israel have not approved it. Proponents believe that a U.S. ratification could lead to these other “dominos” falling into line.

Otherwise, 180 nations have signed the treaty and 148 have ratified it, including nuclear weapons powers Russia, Britain and France.

Appearing on Tuesday's conference panel with Mr. Toth, physicist Sidney Drell, a longtime U.S. government adviser on nuclear weapons issues, noted that the government's weapons laboratories have determined that the weapons' plutonium “pits” have a lifetime, “conservatively,” of 85 to 100 years.

“That concern, having weapons more than 20 years old, has been removed in the past 10 years,” Mr. Drell said.

As for verification, Mr. Toth pointed out that his organization's monitoring system detected North Korea's very small nuclear test in 2006 and has since strengthened its capabilities.

“No test of military significance can go undetected,” the treaty chief said.

Meanwhile, “on the proliferation side, it is a totally new ballgame. There is a terrorist nexus,” Mr. Toth told the AP. Treaty proponents fear that Pakistan's developing nuclear arsenal may fall into extremist hands in an increasingly unstable nation.

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