Clinton Team Begins Quiet Push to Ratify Agreement on Banning Chemical Weapons

THE Clinton administration has begun a low-key push for Senate ratification of arguably the most complicated arms-control pact in history: the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Signed by 130 countries in January 1993, the CWC bans development, possession, and use of chemical weapons. With its elimination of an entire class of mass-destruction weapons, the CWC may be the most significant nonproliferation pact since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968.

There appears little doubt the Senate will approve the pact, as chemical-weapons control is a bipartisan issue. President Bush pushed hard for a CWC.

But problems still exist. Some senators have shown concern about safety of chemical incineration, the Army's chosen method to eliminate United States stockpiles.

Also, some analysts and lawmakers worry rogue nations suspected of possessing poison weapons haven't signed the treaty, and won't any time soon.

US conventional weapons are more than sufficient to deter use of gas weapons by rogue states, claim administration officials.

Also, the NPT's experience has shown that ``you do over time exert pressure on holdout countries just through the very existence of the regime,'' says John Holum, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency director.

Sweden, Seychelles, Fiji, and Mauritius have ratified the chemical-weapons pact. Sixty-five ratifications are needed for the CWC to enter into force. US officials hope national legislatures move fast enough for the pact to go on-line in January 1995.

The target date for baseline destruction of chemical-weapons stocks is 2005. The US plans to have burned up its 30,000 tons of poison weapons a year or so before then, but public opposition at some US chemical storages sites may slow the process.

Mr. Holum says studies show incineration of these weapons on-site is the safest disposal method. Leaking rocket propellant and other problems mean delay only increases risk, he says.

Ironically, on March 24, a Russian scientist urged the Russian legislature not to ratify the CWC because of safety concerns. Russia ``will not be able to begin safe scrapping of chemical weapons stockpiles, since we have no proper control methods, safe technology or the required enormous funds,'' said Vil Mirzayanov.

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