Why Clinton Softens Stance On Nuclear Testing Ban

THE Clinton administration is softening its stance on some key nuclear testing-related issues in an effort to win international support for an open-ended extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

For one thing, the White House announced yesterday that it would continue its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear test explosions until a wide-ranging treaty banning such experiments can be signed. The US moratorium had been set to expire this fall; US officials claim a Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (CTB) can be wrapped up by the fall of 1996.

''The president has decided to extend the moratorium on its nuclear tests until a CTB treaty enters into force,'' said National Security Adviser Anthony Lake at a conference on nuclear nonproliferation in Washinton.

For another, US officials now say they will help CTB negotiations along by dropping a controversial demand that the US be allowed to withdraw from the treaty 10 years after it enters into force, if national interests so demand. Many nonaligned nations have complained that this US proposal is arrogant and undermines the proposed pact's purpose.

In publicly announcing these testing changes at a nuclear nonproliferation conference in Washington, the administration is attempting to drum up more support for the separate Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Nonaligned states have been hesitant to sign up to an indefinite NPT extension until the big nuclear powers, such as the US, demonstrate commitment to further control of their arsenals.

At preliminary meetings in New York last week, the US ran into unexpectedly stiff opposition to its preferred NPT extension outcome. A perceived slowness in cutting arsenals on the part of the big powers was only one problem. Arab nations are also threatening to not sign an NPT extension unless Israel does, as well.

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