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US rejoins nuke-test treaty session 10 years later

world Updated: Sep 24, 2009 10:53 IST

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After a 10-year gap, the United States on Thursday rejoins a biannual conference designed to win more support _ including from the U.S. Senate _ for the treaty banning all nuclear bomb tests.

A speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was scheduled to help kick off the U.N. session, a gathering of foreign ministers and other envoys from more than 100 nations that have ratified or at least signed the 1996 treaty. It represents the first U.S. participation since 1999.

The pact has lingered in a diplomatic limbo since a Republican-dominated Senate rejected it that year, but U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to now “aggressively” pursue ratification.

The two-day conference was being held in parallel with a summit of the 15 U.N. Security Council members on the subject of nuclear nonproliferation, presided over by Obama.

Thursday was the 13th anniversary of the ceremonial signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by Mrs. Clinton’s husband, then-President Bill Clinton, and other global leaders.

It was turned down in the Senate three years later when opponents objected that the U.S. might need to test its weapons to ensure the reliability of its nuclear stockpile, and contended that a planned International Monitoring System might fail to detect secret tests by nuclear cheaters.

Tibor Toth, who heads the U.N.-affiliated Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, said that this time Senate skeptics will have to confront the “reality” of a working, $1-billion verification network.

“I could call it a ‘verification Manhattan Project,” Toth told The Associated Press, referring to the all-out U.S. program that built the first bombs in the 1940s.

Experts of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences are studying the effectiveness of the verification system, along with the reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without testing, and will report their findings this winter.

Toth said he hoped this “nonpartisan” review will reassure enough Republicans to win the needed two-thirds ratification vote in the Senate, which now has a Democratic majority. Consideration is not expected until next year.

The pact requires ratification _ that is, full government approval _ by 44 nuclear-capable states before it can take effect. All but nine of those have ratified, along with the governing bodies of 115 other nations.

Besides the U.S., the holdouts among the 44 are China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. and four other original nuclear powers _ Russia, Britain, France and China _ have observed testing moratoriums.

Indonesia has said it will ratify if the U.S. does, and analysts believe the Chinese would also follow suit. Most believe North Korea and Iran might be the final holdouts, and would be more deeply isolated internationally as a result.