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VP to Lead U.S. Nonproliferation Efforts

(Apr. 8) -Vice President Joseph Biden is set to take a lead role in advancing U.S. nonproliferation interests (Mayela Lopez/Getty Images). (Apr. 8) -Vice President Joseph Biden is set to take a lead role in advancing U.S. nonproliferation interests (Mayela Lopez/Getty Images).

The job of leading the push for the Obama administration's nuclear nonproliferation program will fall to Vice President Joseph Biden, the Boston Globe reported today (see GSN, April 6).

The tasks at hand including promoting security of nuclear material across the globe and pushing ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty through the U.S. Senate.

"As a measure of the president's continuing commitment to this vital nonproliferation agenda, he has asked for Vice President Joe Biden's help to lead the administration's nonproliferation efforts," Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said this week during a major nonproliferation conference in Washington (see GSN, April 7).

The administration's agenda encompasses the treaty banning nuclear test explosions, which must be ratified by the United States and a handful of other nations before entering into force (see GSN, March 30); establishment of a pact to prohibit production of fissile material for nuclear weapons; requiring nations to allow more intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency; and bolstering the Proliferation Security Initiative and other programs to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Steinberg also noted the planned U.S.-Russian talks to further reduce their nuclear arsenals under a follow-up pact to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (see related GSN story, today) and indicated a need to secure nuclear materials beyond the former Soviet Union, the Globe reported.

"The job must be completed," he said.

Arms control offices at the State Department might see a boost, while the national laboratories that lead U.S. nuclear-weapon research could face reductions, Steinberg indicated (Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, April 8).

Biden was a key supporter of the Clinton administration's failed effort to push the test ban treaty through the Senate in 1999, the Washington Post reported today. Proponents lacked 19 votes to garner the two-thirds majority needed for approval of the pact in the body then led by Republicans.

The administration first plans an expansive study of the matter, including consideration of two issues that helped to derail the 1999 effort -- verification of illicit underground nuclear testing and ensuring the viability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal when testing is not an option.

"A lot of these issues have more clear answers than they had in 1999," according to a high-level administration source. He could not say when treaty ratification might be brought before the Senate.

The Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees are all likely to review treaty ratification. Entry into force could also lead to a National Intelligence Estimate on the pact and an Energy Department assessment of the reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons, according to Senate staffers.

The United States has maintained a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing since 1991 (Walter Pincus, Washington Post, April 8).

Failure to bring the treaty into force would create a world that has "more fissile material in more facilities with more people to handle it, representing a risk of (nuclear) terrorism," said Tibor Toth, head of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization.

Referring to Washington's previous failure to ratify the pact, Toth said: "Probably what you will have to do is revisit the benefits of the treaty from a wider perspective, from a post-2001 viewpoint."

He downplayed questions on verification of nuclear tests, noting that monitoring technology deployed around the world detected North Korea's limited nuclear blast in October 2006, the Associated Press reported.

"No test of military significance can go undetected," he said (Charles Hanley, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, April 7).

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