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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.


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