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U.S. NEEDS TO STAY TOUGH ON LIMITING N-WEAPONS

The U.S. has been a strong advocate of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, designed to stop nuclear weapons from being acquired by nations that currently do not have them. And that support can be expected to continue as the 25-year-old treaty comes up for review this week.

Oddly, however, the United States itself is being criticized for failing to comply with parts of the treaty. The criticism, which comes from Russia, is undoubtedly accurate, but this is one case where the U.S. failure to comply is probably in the best interest of the rest of the world.Under terms of the treaty, the five declared nuclear nations - United States, Russia, Britain, China and France - are supposed to help the non-nuclear nations develop peaceful nuclear power.

Unfortunately, peaceful nuclear power can be diverted in some respects to aid in the development of N-weapons. Washington is using that possibility to argue against allowing Russia to sell $1 billion in reactors and other materials to Iran, one of the 172 signers of the Nonproliferation Treaty.

The United States believes Iran is secretly trying to develop a bomb and giving "peaceful" aid will only speed up that process. Thus America is caught between the official text of the treaty - being cited by Russia and Iran - and its own common-sense policy of not doing anything to help Iran's nuclear ambitions.

This is one instance where the United States must stand firm and live up to the spirit of the treaty, even though its position may be legally awkward as far as the treaty text is concerned.

The review of the Nonproliferation Treaty has brought up other questions. Arab countries in the Middle East argue that they cannot be expected to be good faith participants of a renewed treaty if Israel is exempted. That is a shrewd thrust and a difficult issue for Washington as it attempts to be a Middle East peacemaker and to keep N-weapons out of places like Iran.

Some 20 countries have not signed the treaty. Both Israel and India, along with Pakistan, are undeclared nuclear powers and are believed by most experts to have a quantity of N-weapons.

Despite current problems, the United States must continue to work hard to keep the Nonproliferation Treaty as strict as possible and as widely accepted as possible.

Though the treaty is not an unqualified success, it has some some qualified success for 25 years in limiting the scope of the nuclear nightmare. The world clearly is better off with it than without it.