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President Clinton's Remarks on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 20, 1999


Rose Garden


11:43 A.M. EDT


THE PRESIDENT: I have just had the privilege of meeting with the three Apollo 11 astronauts, who, 30 years ago, carried out the first landing on the moon: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. They and everyone at NASA over the years have made an extraordinary contribution to our nation and to humanity. I am very grateful to them.

President Kennedy, who set a goal of putting a man on the moon by the late 1960s, was committed to using technology to unlock the mysteries of the heaven. But President Kennedy was also concerned that technology, if misused, literally could destroy life on Earth. So another goal he vigorously pursued was one first proposed by President Eisenhower, a treaty to ban for all time testing of the most destructive weapons ever devised -- nuclear weapons.

As a first step, President Kennedy negotiated a limited test ban treaty to ban nuclear tests except those conducted underground. But for far too long nations failed to heed the call to ban all nuclear tests. More countries sought to acquire nuclear weapons and to develop ever more destructive weapons. This threatened America's security and that of our friends and allies. It made the world a more dangerous place.

Since I have been President, I have made ending nuclear tests one of my top goals. And in 1996, we concluded a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- 152 countries have now signed it, and 41, including many of our allies, have now ratified it. Today on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators is speaking out on the importance of the treaty. They include Senators Jeffords, Specter, Daschle, Biden, Bingaman, Dorgan, Bob Kerrey, Levin, and Murray. I am grateful for their leadership and their support of this critical agreement.

And today I want to express again my strong determination to obtain ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. America already has stopped nuclear testing. We have, today, a robust nuclear force and nuclear experts affirm that we can maintain a safe and reliable deterrent without nuclear tests.

The question now is whether we will adopt or whether we will lose a verifiable treaty that will bar other nations from testing nuclear weapons. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will strengthen our national security by constraining the development of more advanced and more destructive nuclear weapons, and by limited the possibilities for more countries to acquire nuclear weapons. It will also enhance our ability to detect suspicious activities by other nations.

With or without a test ban treaty, we must monitor such activities. The treaty gives us new means to pursue this important mission -- a global network of sensors and the right to request short notice, on-sight inspections in other countries. Four former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- David Jones, William Crowe, Colin Powell and John Shalikashvili -- plus the current Chairman, Hugh Shelton, all agree the treaty is in our national interests. Other national leaders, such as former Senators John Glenn and Nancy Kassebaum Baker, agree.

Unfortunately, the Test Ban Treaty is now imperiled by the refusal of some senators even to consider it. If our Senate fails to act, the treaty cannot enter into force for any country. Think of that. We're not testing now. One hundred and fifty-two countries have signed, 41 have ratified, but if our Senate fails to act, this treaty and all the protections and increased safety it offers the American people cannot enter into force for any country. That would make it harder to prevent further nuclear arms competition, and as we have seen, for example, in the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan.

Do we want these countries and other regional rivals to join a test ban treaty, or do we want them to stop nuclear testing? Do we want to scrap a treaty that could constrain them?

The major nuclear powers, Britain and France, Russia and China, have signed the treaty. Do we want to walk away from a treaty under which those countries and scores of others have agreed not to conduct nuclear tests? I believe it is strongly in our interest to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The American people consistently have supported it for more than 40 years now. At a minimum, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should hold hearings this fall. Hearings would allow each side to make its case for and against the treaty, and allow the Senate to decide this matter on the merits. We have a chance right now to end nuclear testing forever. It would be a tragedy for our security and for our children's future to let this opportunity slip away.

I thank those senators from both parties who today are announcing their clear intention not to do that. Thank you.

Q Mr. President, did Jiang Zemin tell you that he would use force to counter Taiwan's independence? And would you use force in Taiwan's defense?

THE PRESIDENT: First let me tell you I'm going to have a press conference tomorrow and I will answer a lot of questions. The answer to that question is, we had a conversation in which I restated our strong support of the one China policy and our strong support for the cross-strait dialogue, and I made it clear our policy had not changed, including our view under the Taiwan Relations Act that it would be -- we would take very seriously any abridgement of the peaceful dialogue.

China knows very well what our policy is, and we know quite well what their policy is. I believe that the action of the United States in affirming our support of the one China policy and encouraging Taiwan to support that and the framework within which dialogue has occurred will be helpful in easing some of the tensions. And that was the context in which our conversation occurred.

So I thought it was a very positive conversation, far more positive than negative. And that is the light in which I meant it to unfold, and I think that is the shape it is taking. So --

Q The Chinese seemed to make it clear that he would use force --

Q On the treaty, Senator Helms says that he would be happy to hold hearings if you would send up the ABM Treaty and the Kyoto Treaty. Will you?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, the ABM Treaty -- we have to conclude START II first. That's in our national interest. The Kyoto Treaty -- all the people who say they're not for the Kyoto Treaty insist that we involve the develop nations in it. I agree with them -- even the people who are against the Kyoto Treaty under any circumstances say, well, if you're going to have it you've got to have the developing nations in there. So it's inconsistent for me to send it up when we're out there working ourselves to death to try to get the developing nations to participate.

Now, this is a relatively new issue, the Kyoto Treaty. And the other issue is not ripe yet -- clearly, not ripe yet. So to take a matter that has been a matter of national debate for 40 years now, and it is finally a reality -- a treaty that has been ratified by 40 other countries, the prospect of dramatically increasing the safety of the American people in the future -- and hold it hostage to two matters that are literally not ripe for presentation to the Senate yet would be a grave error, I think. And I hope that we can find a way around that.

Thank you.

Q Are the Chinese still upset about the embassy bombing?

Q -- test ban, there have been some that say that the Cox report shows that you should actually be developing weapons to stay ahead of proliferators. Is there a comment on that?

Q He's gone.

THE PRESS: Thank you.



11:55 A.M. EDT

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