Clinton to lead U.S. delegation to nuke conference next week

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation at a conference on an international treaty to ban nuclear tests to be held Sept. 24-25 in New York, the White House said Tuesday.

It will be the first U.S. appearance at the conference on pushing for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 10 years. Since 1999, the conference has been held every other year without the U.S. presence.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement that U.S. participation in this year's talks ''will reaffirm the strong commitment'' of the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama to support the CTBT.

He said Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, will hold a series of bilateral sessions during the conference to help ''map out a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to secure the treaty's entry into force.''

Obama, who is calling for a nuclear-free world and whose campaign pledges included ratifying the treaty, has raised hope among those who support the move.

The U.S. participation in this year's conference is intended to lead international efforts to promote nuclear nonproliferation before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference scheduled to be held in New York next May.

The CTBT was approved at a session of the U.N. General Assembly in September 1996. Then President Bill Clinton signed the treaty that year but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to ratify it. The treaty was rejected by the George W. Bush administration.

As of August 2009, 181 countries had signed the treaty and 148 had ratified it. But of the 44 states whose ratifications are required for it to enter into force, nine have yet to either sign or ratify it.

The nine are China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

The U.S. ratification would require the approval of a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and winning over the opposition Republicans, who have shown strong resistance to the treaty, is likely to be a challenge.

In a speech in Prague in April, Obama laid out an ambitious vision for a world without nuclear weapons, saying the United States will take the lead in doing so as the only country that has used them.

He stressed his determination to hammer out a new deal with Russia to further reduce strategic nuclear weapons by the year's end. He said the United States plans to host a global summit within one year on preventing nuclear terrorism.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on September 15, 2009)