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Obama Official: Scant Hope of Congress Weighing Test-Ban Anytime Soon

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

In this 1952 file photo, the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb rises above Nevada's Yucca Flat. An Obama administration official said on Thursday she did not expect the U.S. Senate to consider the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty any time soon (AP Photo). In this 1952 file photo, the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb rises above Nevada's Yucca Flat. An Obama administration official said on Thursday she did not expect the U.S. Senate to consider the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty any time soon (AP Photo).

WASHINGTON -- Despite President Obama’s hopes of seeing a nuclear-test-ban treaty ratified during his second term, a senior administration official on Thursday was not optimistic about the near-term prospects for putting the accord before the Senate for ratification, saying it was a “delicate” matter because of partisan tensions in Congress.

Anita Friedt, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear and strategic policy, said “there really are no timelines set” for naming a White House coordinator to take charge of the effort to secure Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Members of the arms-control community have been urging the White House to name an official who would be in charge of rallying public and congressional support for the CTBT accord in preparation for the treaty’s eventual Senate introduction.

“I think there are good reasons for no timelines set for naming a coordinator,” Friedt told an audience at a Washington event organized by the Arms Control Association, Green Cross International and the Kazakhstan embassy -- entities that support CTBT ratification. “Politically, we just have to test the waters and see where we are.”

Obama views CTBT ratification as a core component of his arms-control agenda. In a high-profile June speech in Berlin on his second-term nuclear policy goals, the president said, “We will work to build support in the United States to ratify” the CTBT accord.

Given that a two-thirds majority in the Senate would be required for approval of any treaty, the Obama administration is seen as having a difficult time winning enough Republican support to secure the test-ban’s ratification in today’s sharply divided political climate.

Linton Brooks, a former head of the National Nuclear Security Administration under President George W. Bush, was pessimistic about the CTBT accord’s prospects for being approved during the Obama administration.

“It will be ratified in the United States when there is a Republican president who supports it,” Brooks told attendees.

Brooks noted that the New START pact, which sets new limits for Russia and the United States’ respective deployed strategic nuclear arsenals, was the first arms-control accord to be approved under a Democratic president since President Kennedy secured ratification of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

“I think in this partisan environment it is going to take a Republican president to bring this off,” he said. “I wish that weren’t true, but it probably is.”

Still, Brooks, who served on a National Academy of Sciences panel that studied technical issues related to a global test-ban, said there is “no chance” of the United States resuming nuclear-weapons testing.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has already been ratified by 160 countries. However, for it to go into effect, it still needs ratification by eight advanced nuclear nations: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

Reiterating past U.S. statements, Friedt said “the fact that the United States has not ratified should not hold other countries back from ratifying.”

The Kazakhstani ambassador to the United States, Kairat Umarov, pushed back on that statement, saying that if Washington were to ratify, “I think the other countries will follow.”

As home to the former Soviet Union’s now-shuttered test site at Semipalatinsk, which saw 456 atomic trials, Kazakhstan has taken on a public role in calling for the global abolition of nuclear explosions.

Roman Vassilenko, ambassador-at-large for the Kazakhstani Foreign Affairs Ministry, told attendees that getting to the point of treaty implementation “is indeed a matter of trust … which the world unfortunately is lacking.”

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