President Clinton has decided to ban all U.S. nuclear weapons tests despite advice from some of his senior advisers that small-scale underground blasts would be helpful in keeping the U.S. arsenal in top condition, senior administration officials said Friday.
An announcement was expected later in the day.The president's decision, revealed by the officials only on condition of anonymity, is likely to spur efforts in Geneva to negotiate an international ban on nuclear weapons tests.
Supporters of a total ban had argued any testing by the United States would encourage other nations to pursue a nuclear weapons program.
Spurgeon Keeny, president of the private Arms Control Association, hailed the decision, calling it "a courageous action."
Keeny said Clinton had overruled Pentagon efforts to convert the testing moratorium ordered by former President George Bush and continued by Clinton to one that would prohibit only tests with an explosive force greater than a half-kiloton of TNT.
"This should provide the incentive to move the test ban negotiations forward," Keeny said. "Otherwise, they would have been dead in the water."
The decision coincided with the 50th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan's surrender in World War II.
All other forms of U.S. nuclear testing - in the atmosphere and under water - have long since been banned in treaties. Some 900 nuclear blasts have been conducted at the U.S. test site in Nevada since 1951.
Recently, a group of private scientists advised the administration that some small-scale tests may marginally improve the reliability of nuclear warheads but advised against them as not worth the potential damage to efforts to conclude the treaty.
Also, former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara wrote to Clinton urging him not to permit any nuclear tests.
France in June announced a resumption of tests in the South Pacific, but on Thursday the French delegate to the Geneva negotiations said his government would push for a total ban.
Clinton vetoes lifting of arms embargo
President Clinton on Friday vetoed legislation to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia, and the White House expressed confidence Congress would uphold his action despite wide support for the measure. "I know that members of Congress share my goals of reducing the violence in Bosnia and working to end the war," Clinton said. "But their vote to unilaterally lift the arms embargo is the wrong step at the wrong time." The veto was delayed until midday to minimize chances of the Senate taking a swift vote to override the president. On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole announced the Senate would not act until it returns from its recess after Labor Day. (More on the former Yugoslavia on A4.)