The Clinton administration’s efforts to win Senate approval of a major treaty aimed at barring poison gas warfare suffered a new and possibly fatal setback Saturday when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., pledged to block it unless it is substantially modified.
“I have given the White House a long list of changes that must be made in this treaty before we agree to Senate ratification of it,” Helms said in a fiery, sarcastic speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“I promise you this: Unless the administration makes the modifications I am demanding, the (treaty) will not leave my committee. Period.”
Administration officials have said repeatedly that there is no prospect of amending the treaty, which already has been ratified by more than enough countries to put it into effect on April 29.
If Helms holds out for amendments, there would appear to be little if any chance of ratification by that date.
The United States was the major architect and promoter of the treaty, which has long had bipartisan support and was signed during the Republican administration of President George Bush.
But if the United States has not ratified by April 29, it will be precluded from participation in enforcement and eventually subject to sanctions.
Helms endorsed the views of a growing number of arms-control hawks who have argued that the treaty would not block the development or deployment of chemical weapons, cannot be verified and would subject U.S. manufacturers to unconstitutional searches by international inspectors.
“Almost none of the rogue nations that pose a chemical weapons threat to us, such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and North Korea, are signatories to the treaty,” he said.