Official: Obama to seek Senate action on Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty

Getting Congress to ratify the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty is a “top priority” for President Obama's second term, the administration's top arms control negotiator said Wednesday. 

The remarks by Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller are the strongest signal to date that the administration plans to launch a lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill like it did to secure passage of the New START treaty with Russia in 2010. Then-President Clinton signed the treaty in 1996, but it has lingered in the Senate since then.

“As we look towards ratification of this Treaty, we acknowledge that the process will not be easy,” Gottemoeller told the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland. “That said, the New START ratification process helped to reinvigorate interest in the topic of nuclear weapons and arms control on Capitol Hill. I am optimistic that interest will continue as we engage with members and staff on the [Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty].”

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Obama made ratification one of his four denuclearization priorities in his 2009 Prague speech, whose fourth anniversary is next month. He has yet to formally ask for Congress to act, however.

Gottemoeller's remarks come as the nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran are creating renewed calls for the United States to take a leading on denuclearization. Former President Reagan's secretary of State, George Shultz, urged ratification of the treaty this month, saying things have changed since the Senate voted down the treaty in 1999.

“It’s now not just an idea that we can detect tests,” Shultz said this month at a Capitol Hill event organized by the Partnership for a Secure America. “There is a network that has been built up now and it has been demonstrated that we can detect all, even small tests.”

He also dismissed concerns that formalizing the ban could harm America's ability to develop new weapons. The United States has observed a moratorium on nuclear tests since 1992.

“I find it hard to see how we would justify going and producing a new nuclear weapon,” Shultz said. “We have quite an arsenal right now.”