After months of opposition, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms Tuesday raised the prospect of quick Senate ratification of the stalled chemical weapons treaty.
Helms, who spent the day escorting Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on a tour in his home state, announced he would begin hearings on the Chemical Weapons Convention April 9. He then hinted strongly that the treaty could still be ratified by April 29, the day its provisions are scheduled to take effect.
The treaty requires all signatories to renounce the production and use of chemical weapons and to destroy all chemical weapons stocks. The United States must ratify by April 29 to participate in its key monitoring and enforcement elements.
“There will be no problem with it if we can continue to negotiate the way we have in the last few days,” Helms told reporters during a joint news conference with Albright. “If both sides sit down and be realistic about it, there’s a very good chance that there could be a treaty.”
Helms has been a vociferous opponent of the convention, claiming it would impose burdensome verification measures on U.S. chemical companies, but leave nonparticipating nations such as Libya and Iran outside its constraints.
While he reiterated his personal distaste for the treaty, Helms seemed prepared to let it come to a vote on the Senate floor.
Winning Senate ratification of the treaty is a major Clinton administration priority, and is considered among the first major challenges facing Albright as President Clinton’s second-term secretary of state.
A senior aide to Albright said that after discussing the chemical weapons treaty with Helms during the course of two long car rides Tuesday, she felt “increasingly confident she’s going to get a vote in the Senate.”
During an evening speech, Albright pressed the case for ratification. “The Chemical Weapons Convention sets the standard that it is wrong for any nation to build or possess a chemical weapon and gives us string and effective tools for enforcing that standard,” Albright said. “This will make it harder for terrorists or outlaw states to build, buy or conceal these horrible weapons.”
Helms’s earlier remarks came as he escorted Albright through a series of appearances in his home state and at Wingate University, a small liberal arts college of 1,300 students that Helms attended. Throughout the day, the two put on a conspicuous display of mutual admiration.
Helms’ tactical shift on the chemical weapons pact came as the two seemed to move closer on another important issue that has kept him at loggerheads with the administration for much of the past three years: Helms’ insistence on streamlining and reorganizing the various foreign policy agencies of the government, including folding Aid for International Development, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the U.S. Information Agency into the State Department.
When Albright became secretary of state, she let it be known she had an open mind on the reorganization question; an aide said Tuesday a plan is being developed within the State Department and would be completed in a matter of weeks.