Se­nate panel OKs sea treaty, but fight looms; votes un­cer­tain for rat­i­fi­ca­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

The Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee on Oct. 31 eas­ily ap­proved the Law of the Sea con­ven­tion, brush­ing back con­ser­va­tives’ ob­jec­tions and set­ting up a bruis­ing rat­i­fi­ca­tion fight on the Se­nate floor, where Repub­li­cans say they can de­feat it.

Rat­i­fi­ca­tion of treaties takes a two-thirds vote. Repub­li­can lead­ers are try­ing to se­cure 34 sig­na­tures on a let­ter to show they have the sup­port to block it and hope this will per­suade Pres­i­dent Bush and Se­nate Democrats to put off a vote un­til at least next year.

“Our lead­er­ship is united. This is some­thing we shouldn’t go for­ward with right now,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Repub­li­can. “I think we’ve got a good shot of get­ting 34 on it.”

The com­mit­tee voted 17-4 to ap­prove the treaty. All four votes in op­po­si­tion came from Repub­li­cans: Mr. DeMint and Sens. Norm Cole­man of Min­nesota, Johnny Isak­son of Ge­or­gia and David Vit­ter of Louisiana.

Mr. Bush, oil and gas com­pa­nies, Se­nate Democrats and some key Se­nate Repub­li­cans sup­port the treaty.

Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr., Delaware Demo­crat and com­mit­tee chair­man, said it presents a clear choice: “Do we join a treaty that es­tab­lishes a frame­work to ad­vance the rule of law on the oceans, that is clearly in our mil­i­tary, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ter­ests, and that has broad ac­cep­tance among the ma­jor mar­itime pow­ers? Or do we re­main on the out­side, to the detri­ment of our na­tional in­ter­ests?”

The treaty, ne­go­ti­ated in the 1970s and early 1980s, es­tab­lishes rules for min­ing rights, nav­i­ga­tion and ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters and sets up sev­eral new in­ter­na­tional bod­ies to over­see its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The U.S. al­ready acts in ac­cor­dance with much of the treaty, but Pres­i­dent Rea­gan ob­jected to spe­cific pro­vi­sions on seabed min­ing and re­fused to sub­mit it for rat­i­fi­ca­tion. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush started a new round of ne­go­ti­a­tions, and Pres­i­dent Clin­ton sub­mit­ted it to Congress in 1994.

The cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion says the treaty’s nav­i­ga­tional rights will help the Navy, while the min­ing busi­nesses say the treaty would pro­vide the le­gal cer­tainty they need to ex­plore seabed re­sources. They ar­gue that the treaty al­ready has been in force for 13 years and that the U.S. is miss­ing a chance to take part in the ne­go­ti­a­tions and de­ci­sions that are defin­ing how it is work­ing.

But an ar­ray of con­ser­va­tive na­tional se­cu­rity groups is try­ing to block the treaty, ar­gu­ing it tram­ples U.S. sovereignty and could cre­ate an in­ter­na­tional tax­ing regime. They also fear the in­ter­na­tional bod­ies will be hos­tile to the U.S. and will ex­pand their man­date to try to con­trol land-based busi­nesses.

The treaty has passed the com­mit­tee be­fore, in 2004, on a 19-0 vote, though Repub­li­can lead­ers re­fused to bring it to the floor.

Now, Demo­cratic lead­ers who con­trol the sched­ule say they want a floor vote, but it’s not clear whether one can hap­pen this year.

A spokesman for Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, said his party is “hope­ful” of hold­ing a vote, but the sched­ule is crowded.

Sev­eral Repub­li­can aides said they were sur­prised by Sen. Bob Corker, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, who voted by proxy to ap­prove the treaty. In a state­ment read by Sen. Richard G. Lu­gar, the com­mit­tee’s top Repub­li­can, Mr. Corker said that his vote was only to move the process along, and that he would study the is­sue be­fore a fi­nal floor vote.

Mr. Cole­man voted against the treaty but said he wants to see if his ques­tions can be an­swered. For now, he said he was swayed by for­mer U.N. Am­bas­sador Jeane Kirk­patrick, who was a ve­he­ment op­po­nent of the treaty be­fore she died.

Mr. DeMint said he sees op­po­si­tion grow­ing as more sen­a­tors look at the treaty, and as they hear from con­stituents.

“We’ve got­ten enough in­put in our of­fice to know there’s a ris­ing tide on this,” he said.

Speak­ing to re­porters two weeks ago, Sen. Jon Kyl, Ari­zona Repub­li­can and his party’s con­fer­ence chair­man, said Repub­li­cans can block it on the floor.

“There aren’t the votes to pass it,” he told re­porters.

At one point in the Oct. 31 com­mit­tee meet­ing, Mr. Vit­ter tried to block the vote, call­ing for an­other round of hear­ings.

Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Demo­crat, told Mr. Vit­ter that his mo­tion was go­ing to fail and that by of­fer­ing it he was vi­o­lat­ing the col­le­gial­ity of the Se­nate. Sev­eral of Mr. Vit­ter’s Repub­li­can al­lies on the com­mit­tee also said they would vote against his mo­tion, and he was forced to with­draw it.

“I don’t think an­other hear­ing is go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence,” Mr. Cole­man told him.

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