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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Helms Tells Clinton To Forget Arms Deal

WASHINGTON -- In a defiant warning just six weeks before U.S. President Bill Clinton leaves for a summit in Moscow, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms vowed to block approval of any arms agreement that Clinton might negotiate with Russia during his final months in office.

"This administration's time for grand treaty initiatives is at an end," Helms, a Republican, said in a speech Wednesday on the Senate floor, adding that he wanted no part of a "final photo op" to help burnish Clinton's legacy in the international arena.

Although Helms has long harbored deep reservations about arms-control agreements, his speech went beyond previous statements from Senate Republican leaders opposing deals that could limit U.S. options for a national missile defense.

Helms explicitly ruled out any kind of new arms accord Clinton might negotiate.

His comments underscored the vehemence of Republican conservatives' opposition to new arms limitations, gave Clinton a shaky send-off for Moscow and offered a preview of the political furor that Clinton would find back home if he signs any new arms agreements when he meets with President-elect Vladimir Putin on June 4 and 5.

The upcoming summit will focus on U.S. proposals to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to allow the United States to build a limited system of national missile defense.

Helms and other congressional Republicans who advocate a robust missile defense want to scrap the treaty entirely because they fear the Clinton administration will promise to keep the U.S. missile-defense system small and not to deploy interceptors in space or on ships as part of a more ambitious, and costly, shield.

Clinton administration officials have indicated that they may offer the Russians a "grand bargain" in which the United States would agree to deep cuts that Russia is seeking in the size of both sides' nuclear arsenals in return for Russian agreement to amend the ABM treaty.

In his speech Wednesday, Helms was especially adamant on the missile-defense issue.

"Not on my watch, Mr. President, not on my watch," declared Helms, who played a key role in blocking approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last year.

"Let's be clear to avoid any misunderstandings down the line," he added. "Any modified ABM treaty negotiated by this administration will be DOA, dead on arrival, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."

Moreover, he said, the committee will not consider any arms treaties binding on the new administration to be elected in November.

"The Russian government should not be under any illusion whatsoever that any commitments made by this lame-duck administration will be binding on the next administration," he said.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said there was nothing new about Helms' view. The department would "consult with the Senate about the best way to proceed," Rubin added. "Senator Helms is not the entire Senate."

Helms' speech came a day after Clinton met with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in hopes of persuading Moscow to agree to changes in the ABM treaty.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has accused the Clinton administration of dragging its feet on missile defense, and said he would build the system over Russian objections.

Jon Wolfsthal, an arms-control specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Helms' most recent comments highlight the wide chasm between Moscow and Washington on the missile-defense issue.

"Any deal that the Clinton administration might be able to negotiate with Russia would be unacceptable to this Senate, and any deal that the Senate would like would be rejected by the Russians."