US tussle over chemical weapons reaches climax

One of the Clinton administration's most keenly fought political battles may finally be nearing its end with the opening tomorrow of a long- delayed Senate debate on chemical weapons.

The Bill to ratify the international convention on chemical weapons, which would outlaw the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of poison gas and other chemical weapons, was submitted for consideration more than four years ago. But it has had to surmount strong objections from arms control sceptics even to come to debate.

If the necessary two-thirds majority for ratification is achieved at the vote on Thursday, the United States will have just got in under the wire.

The treaty has already been ratified by more than 65 states and comes into force next week with or without the US.

If the vote goes against ratification, the US will find itself in the unlikely company of such countries as Iraq, Libya and Iran, which have refused to sign. This is an outcome deplored by President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and defense secretary William Cohen, all of whom have spent weeks lobbying energetically for ratification.

But the outcome is by no means certain. Although the convention has support from Democrats and Republicans and was signed by a Republican president, George Bush, five years ago in Geneva, there is a hard core of Republicans, led by the chairman of the Senate's influential foreign affairs committee, Jesse Helms, that has been adamantly opposed.

They say the treaty would not halt the development or use of chemical weapons, because key countries are not signatories. They say compliance cannot be verified, and that US chemical manufacturers would be subject to "unconstitutional" searches by international inspectors.

Their principal objection, however, is the obligation on signatories to share information about how to protect themselves from chemical weapons. They say this would jeopardise US national security.

Interviewed on television at the weekend, Ms Albright defended ratification, saying: "People will wonder what is wrong with us" if the US fails to ratify a treaty that has "made in the USA written all over it". "Can you imagine," she asked, "what it would be like for us to be on the same side as Libya and Iraq?"

Supporters of the treaty argue that verification provisions are the tightest ever of any arms control treaty. They see the objections as deriving less from the chemical weapons convention as framed, than from what they see as a visceral scepticism of arms control itself in a section of the Republican party.

As recently as two weeks ago, Mr Helms and his allies were holding out for several dozen amendments which would have effectively emasculated the treaty. Now, after a charm offensive by Ms Albright, which included a visit to Mr Helms's home state of North Carolina, and another to Houston, Texas, where she appeared on a platform with George Bush, Mr Helms has lifted some of his objections.

Mr Helms has also wrung a separate concession. Last week, Mr Clinton announced that two independent agencies - the arms control and disarmament agency and the US information agency (which has responsibility for the Voice of America radio station) - would be brought into the State Department. Mr Helms has urged such a reform to increase congressional control of their activities and reduce bureaucracy.

Despite the last-minute horse-trading, there remain on the table five amendments. Each could scupper the treaty.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral