An international treaty to eliminate chemical weapons - awaiting ratification by the United States Senate since 1991 - will most likely have to wait at least another year to see lawmaker action. One large hang-up: presidential election politics.
The Clinton administration was forced last week to accept a delay in Senate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The White House swallowed a postponement because last-ditch lobbying by Republican opponents of the treaty appeared to have drummed up enough votes to have killed it.
CWC opponents received an unexpected boost from Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. In a letter to his former colleagues, ex-Senator Dole contended the treaty would allow overly intrusive international inspections of American chemical industries that would threaten companies' trade secrets. In addition, he wrote, countries such as Libya, Syria, and North Korea would not be parties to it.
GOP leaders say they want to amend the legislation to address those concerns. But with the Senate set to adjourn in a month, any likelihood that the treaty will be ratified this year is remote.
The Clinton administration accuses Dole, who had formerly supported the CWC, of holding ratification hostage to presidential politics. Ratification would have given President Clinton, who is well ahead of Dole in the polls, an opportunity to stage a high-profile signing ceremony that would have burnished his foreign policy record.
"This is harmful to the treaty. It is not a good way to proceed to have dealt with it in a partisan way," says John Holum, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, of Dole's action. CWC "was so important that it needs to be given a sober ... look removed from partisan politics."
The GOP's delay in ratification marks a contrast to Republicans' previous support for the chemical-weapons-ban treaty. The US joined international negotiations on the treaty under former President Reagan, whose successor, President Bush, signed it.
AS a result of the Senate delay, the CWC is likely to go into force without the US. It has been ratified by 63 countries and requires approval by two more to take effect. In that event, the US would not be permitted to join the United Nations agency that will monitor compliance with the treaty and would be barred from participating in international inspections.
The US chemical industry, which supports the treaty, may also see some financial consequences from the delay. Chemical companies in countries that do not ratify the treaty cannot do business in member nations. That prohibition would cut US manufacturers, with annual export sales of $60 billion, out of most of their overseas markets.