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Hoping to drum up support for extending the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, President Clinton is promising not to order nuclear strikes against countries that have no nuclear weapons and agree not to produce them.

The pledge Wednesday reaffirmed one taken by the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union in 1978. It apparently would rule out U.S. nuclear attacks on such countries as Iran and Iraq.Clinton's statement emphasized, however, that the pledge would not apply if the United States or its allies were invaded or attacked.

Similar assurances are being offered by the leaders of Russia, Britain and France, Secretary of State Warren Christopher told dozens of ambassadors and foreign diplomats at the State Department.

He said China also would provide such an assurance.

The idea is to allay concerns of non-nuclear countries that agreeing to a permanent curb on acquiring nuclear technology could jeopardize their security.

Clinton also reaffirmed a U.S. commitment to provide immediate assistance to states without nuclear weapons in the event they were threatened or attacked by nuclear-armed countries.

This could include medical, scientific and humanitarian assistance, he said.

The president's moves were designed to promote indefinite extension of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at an international conference that begins April 17 in New York.

The treaty has kept the number of countries with nuclear weapons lower than anticipated, reduced the risk of nuclear conflict and promoted the safe use of nuclear energy, Christopher said.

"Only indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT can preserve this treaty's true strength," he said.

Two years of intensive diplomacy are paying off, Christopher said. "We believe that a majority of NPT parties will support indefinite extension."

Some small countries have grumbled over the years that the treaty preserves a privileged club of nuclear countries while denying most other states the technology to develop weapons.

"President Clinton and I believe that the proliferation of nuclear weapons poses the principal threat to the security of the United States and the international community," Christopher said in his speech.