Dole Faces Friendly Fire on Chemical Arms Ban Conservative Critics Block Treaty, Citing Verification Flaws

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Torn between his roles as legislative leader and presumed Republican presidential candidate, Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas must soon decide the fate of a treaty that would ban chemicals as a weapon of war.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), now awaiting ratification in the Senate, obliges signatories to eliminate all chemical weapons within 10 years, as well as facilities that could be used to develop and manufacture chemical arms.

The treaty enjoys broad Senate support but is unpopular with a handful of influential Senate conservatives, which has left Mr. Dole - who must decide how soon to bring the treaty to a vote in the Senate - in an awkward position.

"Dole would like to bring a treaty presented to the Senate by {then} Vice President {George} Bush to conclusion," says a senior Senate source. "On the other hand, he does not want to cross the hard Republican right in an election year."

"How he walks this line is something we'll have to wait and see," adds the source.

Clinton administration officials say if such a treaty had been in effect 10 years ago it might have been possible to limit or prevent Iraq's chemical weapons program.

By requiring member states to bring their domestic laws into conformity with the treaty, it might have given the Japanese government broader authority to take preventive action against a terrorist group that launched a lethal gas attack in a Tokyo subway last year, US officials say.

For their part, critics, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina and Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, say the treaty is fatally flawed because the states most likely to use chemical weapons won't ratify it.

"The question is, is this going to be a global ban?" asks one GOP congressional source. "No it isn't, because the countries you most want to sign will not sign it. So it could give a false sense of security."

Advocating a step that would slow the ratification process, several Republican staff members have urged that the Senate take up legislation to implement the treaty at the same time it debates the treaty itself.

The GOP congressional source says the unusual procedure is required because lawmakers need more detailed information on key issues, including the exact circumstances under which plants belonging to American chemical companies could be searched by an enforcement agency created under the treaty.

"Without {the implementing legislation}, you can't ask the questions that need to be raised," says the source.

Proponents of the treaty say the demand is a stalling tactic. …