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As the nuclear issue heats up in Iran, one other nuclear issue has been pushed to the backburner by the Obama administration. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits underground nuclear testing, faced Senate ratification once in 1999 and failed. In his April speech in Prague, however, President Obama stated that, "To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."
Unfortunately, the administration has recently stated that it does not plan to take on the fight for the CTBT until a win is virtually assured. This could be some time. The schedule for the CTBT will likely depend on ratification of a follow-on agreement to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires on December 5, 2009. It will also undoubtedly depend on the situation in Iran, as well as ongoing pushback from Senate Republicans. A senior GOP Senate aid recently noted, "If you really believe that Iran is a nuclear tipping point, what's more likely to solve that problem? Is it the U.S. ratifying CTBT or is it the U.S. finding some clever way to get Russia and China to help us deal with that problem?" Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) has also repeatedly stated his intention to derail ratification of the treaty.
Though the administration is currently hard at work compiling scientific and technical data to support its case for ratification, timing may not be on the side of the CTBT. Currently, the administration plans to wait until after the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, which begins next April. All the same, The Cable reports that, “if ratification seems unlikely, [the administration] could abandon the push in the near term.”