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Senator seeks to ratify nuclear test ban pact


[Um, Wouldn't this interfere in the president's "constitutional" power to make treaties without congress? --DS]

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, said on Friday he had begun laying the groundwork for Senate ratification of a global pact banning nuclear tests.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was rejected by the Senate a decade ago. President Barack Obama said during his campaign that he would seek to get it ratified. But ratification is up to the Senate, where two-thirds approval is required.

"We are very close ... We don't have that many votes to win over to win," Kerry told a conference on U.S. policy toward Russia. "But they are serious folks and we are going to have to persuade them."

Kerry said his committee would hold hearings on the treaty. A vote by the full Senate is unlikely before next year, the Massachusetts Democrat said.

There is widespread international support for the test ban treaty, but it cannot come into effect because some nuclear powers like the United States and China have not ratified it. Proponents say U.S. ratification could help get other countries with nuclear programs, like India, to sign on.

When the Senate rejected it in 1999, opponents said the verification provisions were insufficient to deal with possible cheating. There were also concerns about whether the safety of the U.S. nuclear arsenal could be maintained without testing.

The United States has had a moratorium on nuclear testing since 1992.

Some strong supporters of verifiable arms control agreements, such as Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, voted against the test ban treaty in 1999. Lugar is now the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"We're going to look at this clinically, realistically, as dispassionately as possible," Kerry said. "We are going to do our best to get this passed."

Some 180 nations have signed and over 140 have ratified the test ban treaty, including Russia. Washington signed the pact in 1996 under President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, but he was unable to get it through the Senate, which had a Republican majority then. Now Democrats control 58 votes in the Senate.

When Republican President George W. Bush took office in 2001 his administration made clear it did not want its options limited by such a treaty and never resubmitted it. Kerry lost the presidency to Bush in 2004 elections.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Anthony Boadle)

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