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Resume arms talks

This month brings three sobering reminders of the importance of resuming efforts to halt the global nuclear weapons race. Within ten days 39 years ago, the first atomic bomb was dropped in warfare, followed by the second, and then the end of World War II.

Peace had come, and the world's statesmen turned their attention to keeping it, initially by establishing the United Nations. In the intervening decades many wars have taken place, but none pitting the great powers against each other. The destructive power of today's weaponry makes especially compelling the need to continue working to avert superpower war.

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One of the most urgent tasks of the American president next term will be to try to resume talks with the Soviet Union on nuclear weaponry. If antisatellite weapons talks are in fact held in September - although the outlook is not now bright - this might present one opportunity to press for nuclear discussions. Alternatively a consistent effort should be made to press the Kremlin for such talks, in all existing levels of contact between the superpowers.

This is not to minimize the difficulty of translating good intentions into an effective, verifiable nuclear weapons pact. The challenges are enormous, both in terms of technical aspects and the current deep distrust between the superpowers. Even holding talks at all may be a feat in itself, in view of questions about the long-term prospects of the current Soviet leadership.

Yet the effort must be made. As the memories of 39 years ago make clear, the stakes are too high to permit inaction.