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Our representatives in Congress once again have the opportunity to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

After months of U.S.-led negotiations, President Clinton was the first international leader to sign the 1996 treaty, which would ban nuclear-test explosions. Almost three years later, the U.S. Senate has yet to ratify or even discuss the treaty.

This October, a special conference will convene in Vienna, Austria, to explore ways to speed the implementation of the treaty.

If the Senate has not yet ratified it, lack of U.S. leadership could erode worldwide commitment to the treaty, greatly complicate its implementation and undermine the current global moratorium on nuclear testing.

Advocates of the treaty are now redoubling their efforts to win ratification this year. The results are impressive.

On July 16, the 54th anniversary of the first nuclear-test explosion, hundreds of Physicians for Social Responsibility activists and citizens nationwide called their senators to demand ratification.

On July 20, the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers released the results of a nationwide poll showing 82 percent of Americans support the test-ban treaty. This support is non-partisan, with 86 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of Independents in favor.

On the day the polling data was released, a bipartisan group of nine key senators called for Senate action on the treaty, and the president made a statement expressing his "strong determination to obtain ratification of the CTBT."

As Clinton noted, the American people consistently have supported the treaty for more than 40 years.

At a minimum, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should hold hearings this fall. Hearings would allow each side to make its case for and against the treaty, and allow the Senate to decide this matter on the merits.

We have a chance to end nuclear testing forever. It would be a tragedy for our security and for our children's future to let this opportunity slip away.

JAMES A. METZGER, D.D.S. Williamsville

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