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With a treaty banning the manufacture and use of chemical weapons stalled in Congress, the United States is telling the world it doesn't think making an attempt to curb such weapons is worthwhile.

Opinions differ on whether verification of adherence to such a treaty would be feasible. Some experts cite problems in cataloging Iraq's chemical weapons capability. But that's not really the point. No treaty will guarantee that rogue nations or terrorist groups won't create chemical weapons.What a treaty will do is take an important step toward the removal of such weapons from traditional theaters of war. That's a goal worth pursuing, and one that the United States should be working toward. Instead, the Senate is unlikely to hold hearings on the treaty this year - and may never do so. The treaty is not on Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's agenda for the current session. Nor is a strategic arms pact with Russia.

These dangerous omissions are more proof of the limited interest this Republican Congress has in international affairs.

Clinton administration officials claim the holdup stems from the obstinate refusal of Sen. Jesse Helms, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, to act on such matters until there is a shake-up at the State Department. Committee officials say the delay is because there are doubts that the treaty can effectively be policed.

Neither explanation offers any convincing argument for delay. This is a matter not only of making every possible effort to remove chemical weapons, but of the United States taking a leadership role in such a cause.

The rest of the world is watching what we do. If the United States doesn't feel it important that chemical weapons be controlled, why should other nations?

The agreement to ban such weapons has been signed by 159 countries, but only 35 have ratified it in the past two years. Another 30 nations must do so for the treaty to come into effect.

Without a treaty, there will be a further increase in the manufacture of such weapons. The international community will show itself impotent at keeping such nightmarish weapons in check.

Republicans in the Senate must move ahead on the chemical-weapons ban.