The Senate rejected a landmark treaty to ban
nuclear testing Wednesday, handing President Clinton a humiliating foreign policy defeat.
"I assure you the fight is far from over," Clinton vowed afterwards.
The vote was 48 to 51, far short of the 67 votes -- or two-thirds of the Senate -- needed for ratification. As expected, the final vote closely followed party lines, with only four Republicans voting for it and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., voting present.
Clinton said he would continue to urge other countries to ratify the treaty, and promised that the United States ultimately would join them. But he also expressed disappointment that the treaty fell victim to "politics, pure and simple."
"Never before has a serious treaty involving nuclear weapons been handled in such a reckless and ultimately partisan way," he
said. "This was a political deal, and I hope it will get the treatment from the American people it richly deserves."
The showdown followed a bruising partisan battle. Democrats vowed to make the rejection a prime 2000 campaign issue, claiming polls show most Americans favor such a ban -- first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., called the pact "fatally flawed."
The clock ran out after three days of debate and futile negotiations for a postponement among Senate Democrats, the White House and Republican Senate leaders.
Republicans who voted for the treaty were Sens. John Chafee of Rhode Island, James Jeffords of Vermont, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
The treaty has been signed by 154 nations, but must be ratified by all 44 of the world's nuclear-capable countries to take effect.
Thus, the Senate vote was an enormous blow.
Supporters warned the price of outright rejection would be certain international condemnation -- and could even increase
pressure on emerging nuclear powers like Pakistan and India to conduct more tests.
"With this vote tonight, the world becomes a more dangerous place," declared Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Specter pointed to the military coup in Pakistan as one more reason why treaty is important. "The events of the past 24 hours
in Pakistan show the undesirability of having Pakistan test," he said.
America's top European allies -- Britain, France and Germany --had called on the Senate late last week not to reject the pact. And China earlier this week said U.S. ratification would lead other countries to follow suit.
But opponents claimed the compliance with the treaty could not be verified and argued that it would do little to stop terrorist
organizations or dictators from developing nuclear weapons.
"It cannot accomplish its highly exaggerated stated goal of halting the spread of nuclear weapons," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C. He said the treaty also would undermine confidence in the safety and reliability of
the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Clinton had made ratification a top second-term priority and was the first world leader to sign the pact in September 1996.
Vice President Al Gore, speaking on Air Force Two while en route from Los Angeles to Seattle, said the Senate vote was disappointing and "breathtakingly irresponsible."
He said he would use his presidential campaign to build support for the treaty, and promised that, if elected president, he would
resubmit it for ratification.
Of the 44 nuclear-capable countries, 26 had signed the treaty as of Thursday. But of the world's seven declared nuclear powers, only
Britain and France have done so.
Although many Republicans favored a delay, a small band of conservatives, including Helms, blocked every overture made by
either Clinton or Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Helms had bottled up the treaty in his Foreign Relations Committee for a full two years before Senate GOP leaders, knowing they had the votes to kill the pact, suddenly brought it up for a vote.
Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., said more than half of the Senate had signed a bipartisan letter
supporting a delay in principle. Warner opposed the pact and Moynihan favored it.
But under Senate rules, unanimous consent would have been required to move easily away from the scheduled vote and Democrats
and Republicans seeking a delay could find no face-saving way to achieve such a postponement.
Daschle said neither he nor Clinton were willing to make any further concessions to Senate conservatives in exchange for a
delay. "There's a limit to what I can do and I've reached that limit," he said.
Clinton had met one GOP demand by requesting a delay in writing. And Daschle had tried to meet a second one, a promise not to seek to bring it up until 2001 short of "extraordinary circumstances."
But conservatives rejected that overture, as well.
In a last ditch effort, Democrats tried to block a move by Lott to move towards a final vote. They lost on a straight 55-45 party-line vote, with all Republicans supporting Lott's prerogative to decide calendar issues.
Lott blamed the administration for waiting too long before beginning a big push for the postponement. "I think they just thought they would bluff us. They kept poking and poking, saying they wanted to have the vote," he told reporters.
Clinton called Lott shortly before the vote and asked if there was anything that could be done to delay it. Lott told him there wasn't, said Lott spokesman John Czwartacki. Earlier, Lott told reporters that Clinton had never talked to him directly about the issue, nor had Secretary of State Madeleine Albright or Defense Secretary William Cohen.
"In the past, when it really mattered, they were there. I don't know, it's been a real curiosity to watch the way they've responded
to all this," Lott said.
Supporters got a parliamentary ruling that the rejection did not kill the treaty per se. Instead, the vote returned the document to the clerk's desk in the front of the Senate -- where it will sit until and unless called up again.
"We live to fight another day," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.
The treaty was the first on arms control ever rejected by the Senate and only the sixth time this century the Senate has rejected any treaty. The last treaty defeated was one dealing with international airline overflight rights and airline litigation liability, in 1983.
Meanwhile, in a speech at the University of Maine, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the United States has no plan to conduct nuclear weapons tests, whatever the outcome of the Senate debate, and would discourage other nations from testing.
Albright said the administration also would continue to support the international monitoring system the treaty would establish to
Though no arms control treaty had ever been voted down, President Carter in 1980 withdrew the SALT II pact with the Soviet Union from Senate debate in the face of near-certain defeat in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press.