JIM LEHRER: The Senate moved tonight toward ratification of the chemical weapons ban treaty. Kwame Holman has our report.
KWAME HOLMAN: When the framers of the Constitution established the powers of the legislative branch, they decided the Senate should have sole responsibility for ratifying international treaties. And it's a responsibility members take very seriously.
SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI, (D) New Jersey: It is a solemn power that we have exercised for two centuries. That power has often defined the security of the nation and sometimes been determinant of war and peace, itself.
KWAME HOLMAN: As the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Delaware's Joseph Biden has led the effort in the Senate to reach the 2/3 vote necessary to ratify the treaty known as the Chemical Weapons Convention. North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, adamantly opposes the treaty and could have prevented it from coming up for a vote but didn't. The result has been two days of intensive debate focused strictly on the issue, without partisan or personal attacks. Senate observers say times like these show the Senate at its best.
SEN. JESSE HELMS, Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee: I have on 5 January, first days of the Senate, stood right over there by the dock, raised my right hand, and pledged to support and defend our country and this Constitution. Now, I have presided over many hearings dedicated to the careful examination of that wonderful document, the Constitution, and I have pored over this convention, this treaty. It is not global. It is not verifiable, and it will not work.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D) Delaware: I don't doubt for one single second that my friend from North Carolina believes what he says; that he does not believe this treaty is in the interest of the United States of America and by inference would not be upholding or defending the Constitution of the United States were he to vote for it.
KWAME HOLMAN: The chemical weapons treaty bans the development, production, stockpiling, sale, and use of chemical weapons. Of the 163 countries that signed the treaty 74 have ratified it, agreeing to abide by its provisions. The remaining countries, including the United States, have until April 29th, the date the treaty takes effect, to ratify. President Clinton is urging the Senate to get it done.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: What's it going to look like as the world watches us--and believe it or not, they watch us--the American public may not watch us a lot here in the Senate, but the rest of the world's watching--when the possessor of the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, who unilaterally agreed to destroy those weapons--us--we don't ratify a treaty that 74 nations have already ratified? But there are the anti-arms controllers who believe there's never been an arms control agreement that is worth having. I would respectfully suggest that the Senator from North Carolina is among them.
SEN. JESSE HELMS: Frankly, I take offense at the argument that this administration is making widely frequently that rejecting this dangerous and flawed treaty would make America the moral--get this--the moral equivalent of terrorist states--that means governments, countries--terrorist governments like Syria and Iraq and Libya and North Korea. Now, these pariahs are at this very moment manufacturing chemical weapons to use against us. Don't make any mistake about that. That's what they're doing right now as we meet.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning Senators convened an unusual two-hour closed session in the historic Old Senate chamber for an intelligence briefing on chemical weapons development worldwide. Going into the meeting all 45 Democrats had pledged support for the treaty, which meant 22 Republicans were needed for ratification. When debated resumed this afternoon, treaty supporters worked to strike from the treaty five significant changes Sen. Helms attached in committee.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) Vermont: Those five conditions should be seen for what they are-- tweaking killers designed by those who have no desire to see us participate in this treaty no matter how many modifications we make.
KWAME HOLMAN: The first Helms amendment prohibits the United States from joining the treaty until Russia does.
SEN. JON KYL, (R) Arizona: If there is no indication by the Russians that they intend to do this, then it seems a little odd to be entering into a treaty where 60 percent of the world's chemical weapons aren't even being dealt with.
KWAME HOLMAN: The second amendment prohibits the United States from joining the treaty until countries often referred to as rogue nations, such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea, also ratify the treaty.
SEN. JON KYL: We think that if one is going to make the claim that this Chemical Weapons Convention is going to reduce the chemical weapons stocks of these rogue nations that pose a threat to the United States, the least that ought to happen is that they submit themselves to the treaty.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, (D) Connecticut: These rogue nations, these renegade nations have never given weight to world opinion. And there's no reason to expect that they'll have a change of heart anytime soon. Waiting for these rogue states to accept this treaty is literally like waiting for Godot.
KWAME HOLMAN: The third amendment would bar nationals from certain countries from ever entering the United States as part of a chemical weapons inspection team. The fourth amendment is to assure the United States will not be forced to trade chemicals or chemical defense technology with other countries, and the fifth would prohibit the United States from joining the treaty unless there is adequate assurance violators can be detected.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, (R) Texas: I will not support this treaty without the safeguards to the security of America. That is my first responsibility.
KWAME HOLMAN: But a number of key Republicans support the treaty without the added amendments.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R) Arizona: We do not need killer amendments to ensure that this treaty negotiated under President Reagan and signed by President Bush is on a balance--is on balance a good deal for the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: And gradually today one Republican after another added their support for the chemical weapons treaty.
SENATOR: America's national security interests are better served with this treaty than without it.
SENATOR: The world is better off, and we are better off, if we have this treaty, than if we don't.
KWAME HOLMAN: Finally, Majority Leader Trent Lott considered the pivotal vote among undeclared Senators.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: I have decided to vote in support of the Senate giving its advice and consent to the Chemical Weapons Convention. I will do so not because I believe it will end the threat posed by chemical weapons or rid the world of poison gas. I will do so not because I believe this treaty is verifiable enough, or even enforceable enough. I will vote for the convention because I believe there will be a real and lasting consequences to the United States if we do not ratify the convention.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon the first of the Helms amendments was defeated overwhelmingly. That was a further indication no so-called killer amendment would survive and the Senate would agree to ratify the chemical weapons treaty in a final vote later tonight.