Letter: Action to halt spread of nuclear weapons

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Sir: During a radio address in Washington (3 July), President Clinton announced that the United States was extending its moratorium on nuclear testing until at least the end of September 1994 'as long as no other nation tests'. Mr Clinton called on 'the other nuclear powers to do the same'. France and Russia take similar positions, China has yet to react and Britain appears to be discomforted.

The President explained that a resumption of testing by the US would be tantamount to 'undercutting our non-proliferation goals and ensuring that other nations would resume testing'. He also stated that 'the nuclear weapons in the US arsenal are safe and reliable', and British ministers have given similar assurances as regards Britain's existing weapons.

Over the past year the British government lobbied in Washington for continued testing. This failed, and it is acknowledged that the UK cannot test as long as the US moratorium continues.

Thus, on the one hand, the Government has no option, but on the other, it could act positively by making clear that to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons is more important than their further development. We believe it is in British interests for the Government to announce a moratorium on British testing and its readiness to join in negotiations for a comprehensive test ban, a goal shared by the US, Russia and the vast majority of other states.

This would restore Britain to its traditional and rightful position in the forefront of those working for permanent international regimes to limit and control weapons of mass destruction.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN THOMSON (Ambassador to the United Nations 1982-87), MICHAEL PALLISER (Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1975-82), ANTHONY PARSONS (Ambassador to the United Nations, 1979-82), JOHN EDMONDS (Ambassador to the Comprehensive Test Ban negotiations, 1978-80)

The Athenaeum Club

London, SW1

15 July