Clinton Begins Push for Chemical Arms Pact: Helms Reiterates Opposition to Treaty

By Strobel, Warren P. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 5, 1997 | Go to article overview

Clinton Begins Push for Chemical Arms Pact: Helms Reiterates Opposition to Treaty


Strobel, Warren P., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Flanked by a bipartisan group of foreign-policy heavyweights, President Clinton yesterday launched a 25-day lobbying blitz to secure Senate approval of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Mr. Clinton, at a ceremony on the White House South Lawn, said that if the United States fails to approve the accord before it enters into force April 29, U.S. national and economic security will be put at risk.

"We cannot allow this to happen," said Mr. Clinton at a South Lawn event attended by current and former officials, including former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But the difficulty of the president's task was illustrated anew yesterday when Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a chief critic of the accord, said reports that he agreed to a vote on the treaty when he met last week with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were exaggerated.

The North Carolina Republican accused the administration of "stonewalling" in negotiations the last two weeks on differences over the accord.

"Let me repeat what I have said over and over: If the administration negotiates in good faith, and we reach agreement on the remaining issues that divide us, we could have a treaty," said Mr. Helms, who scheduled hearings next week at which opponents of the accord will testify. They include former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.

The treaty, negotiated under the Reagan and Bush administrations, bans the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.

Critics say it is unverifiable, will do nothing to stop rogue states like Libya and Iran from keeping poison gas, and would impose unacceptable restrictions on the U.S. chemical industry.

Mr. Clinton has tried to negotiate the issue primarily with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who appears to be more accommodating to the treaty than Mr. Helms. "We're going to have to work like crazy to pass it," the president said yesterday.

White House aides insisted that they have gone to great lengths to meet Mr. Helms' objections.

National Security Council aide Robert Bell said that, in 30 hours of talks, the administration and lawmakers have resolved 17 out of 30 congressional concerns over the accord. "At some point, you've got to say, we've gone as far as we can, and it's time to vote," he said. …

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