Nuclear Test Ban Talks Fizzle but Pact on Chemical Weapons May Win Nod India's Veto Threat Blocks Approval of Widely Supported Nuclear Pact

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For more than two years, delegates from 61 nations have labored in Geneva to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons tests for all time. There appeared little chance, however, that they would succeed by today's deadline.

With the United Nations Conference on Disarmament required to approve all issues by consensus, India appeared determined on yesterday to use its veto to block the proposed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) from being sent for approval to the UN General Assembly before it dissolves next month.

"The outlook is dim and growing dimmer," John Holum, head of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, told the Monitor in an interview yesterday after returning from Geneva.

The conference's failure to approve the CTBT would represent one of the gravest blows to international nuclear arms-control efforts dating back to the 1950s. It would also be regarded in some quarters as a serious diplomatic setback for the Clinton administration, which has expended enormous amounts of energy, time, and influence in trying to push the CTBT through.

The CTBT "is a long-sought goal in arms control, probably the most urgently desired arms-control treaty in the entire history of this process," said Mr. Holum. "What is under way is an assault on an institution."

He said India might pay a price for blocking the accord. "I would think the impact of preventing action on something the world clearly wants would undercut the country's influence and credibility on these issues," he said.

The CTBT is one of two far-reaching international arms-control agreements facing make-or-break tests. The second, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), is to go before the US Senate by Sept. 14 for a long-delayed vote. Although its prospects were far brighter that those of the CTBT, opponents, led by Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, are pursuing a last-ditch drive to rally votes against it.

Both accords would impose unprecedented global controls on the most destructive weaponry ever devised.

India, which detonated a "peaceful" nuclear blast in 1972 but denies having atomic weapons, objected to the CTBT's failure to bind the five declared nuclear powers - the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia - to a specific timetable for full disarmament.

Furthermore, said Arundhati Ghose, India's UN ambassador, "Since the treaty doesn't ban computer-simulated testing, nuclear powers could update their stockpiles and leave countries such as India at an unfair military advantage. …