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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Albright, Helms Discuss Chemical Arms

WINGATE, North Carolina -- The first time U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Senator Jesse Helms on his own turf, she "didn't change his views one bit," she recalls. This time she left with a hug and a handshake deal to negotiate one of her top priorities: Senate ratification of a chemical weapons treaty.


"I had a great time. Thank you," Albright told Helms, the conservative North Carolina Republican, Tuesday evening following a day of what might be described as a diplomatic charm initiative.


The good feelings were clearly mutual: Helms called Albright a "great lady" who deserves his and the country's praise.


At a joint news conference, Albright declared that she and Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were "developing a pretty good friendship."


Then Helms, who has been blocking the chemical weapons treaty, said he's working with the Clinton administration so that it might be ratified before it goes into effect April 29. It would take effect with or without U.S. approval.


"If they sit down and be realistic about it, there's certainly a chance we'll get a treaty," said Helms, who previously has insisted on State Department and United Nations reform in exchange for the treaty.


Asked what happened to his rock-solid opposition, Helms said: "It's an overrated treaty. ... It maybe has some good points that are sort of hard for me to find. But I'll go ahead and look for them."


Helms said he would schedule a hearing on the treaty April 9.


The Chemical Weapons Convention, signed by 161 countries and ratified by 70 so far, would ban development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and retention, and transfer of chemical weapons.


Opponents believe it would be difficult to enforce and might burden companies that produce chemicals for legitimate purposes, but would have to prove harmless intent.


In her address to Wingate University, where Helms attended school, Albright dismissed complaints from senators such as Helms that the treaty is not verifiable and that states such as Iraq and Libya won't sign.


"It's like saying that because some people smuggle drugs, there is no point in passing a law against drug smuggling," Albright said to an audience that reacted enthusiastically. "We can't let the bad guys write the rules."


As the first female secretary of state, Albright also made a direct appeal for Senate ratification of a 1979 UN convention that condemns discrimination against women. Helms opposes the treaty, which was signed by President Jimmy Carter, and voted against it as recently as 1994.


The odd couple of U.S. foreign policy have always seemed to get along. As U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Albright visited Helms in North Carolina last year. She hummed "Nothing Could Be Finer," to his great amusement, but said she "didn't change his views one bit."


Albright was clearly enjoying her chance Tuesday at redemption.


"I consider it a major part of my mission to talk to the American people," Albright said, adding she's "going to do more of it."