Optimism grows for N-test ban

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The Independent Online
Geneva (Reuter) - France's decision to end its nuclear testing programme should build momentum towards the agreement of a treaty this year that would ban underground blasts for ever, negotiators at the Disarmament Conference in Switzerland said yesterday.

President Jacques Chirac announced on Monday that France had completed its nuclear tests in the South Pacific after a series of six underground explosions that provoked worldwide protests.

''I'm sure his announcement will be helpful,'' one Western ambassador to the conference said. But many delegates remained critical, maintaining that the series of blasts at Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls should not have been undertaken in the first place.

The 38-member forum hopes to conclude its two-year negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the next few months so that a treaty can be opened for signature by September. President Bill Clinton called last week for the conclusion of a draft pact for the consideration, by June, of the UN General Assembly. Washington has observed a testing moratorium since 1993.

The Disarmament Conference will meet in plenary session tomorrow. Concern is likely to be voiced over a Chinese foreign ministry statement yesterday that China's programme of underground tests would continue until the CTBT comes into effect. Negotiators said that China will have to fall into step with the other four declared nuclear powers - Britain, France, Russia and the US - before a CTBT can be pieced together.