Now, it's Bill Clinton's turn.
U.S. testing has been brought to a halt - following a unilateral moratorium initiated by Mikhail S. Gorbachev and continued by Boris N. Yeltsin - as a result of a congressional amendment to a 1992 bill containing funds for the Supercollider project in Texas.
President Bush, hoping to earn a few more votes in his home state, signed the bill, which halted U.S. testing until this July 1. Since then, none of the world's declared nuclear powers, including Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China has exploded any nuclear weapons.
Under the amendment, the United States can conduct up to 15 nuclear tests between July 1 and Sept. 30, 1996, when testing is supposed to end for good - unless other countries test after that date.
The remaining tests must be for the purpose of improving nuclear warhead ''safety," and can only take place 90 legislative days after the President submits a report to Congress on how he will achieve a comprehensive test ban. He also has to specify which warheads, if any, need improvement.
The moratorium amendment was a compromise, worked out during a Republican administration that steadfastly opposed a comprehensive ban. Since then, fears about nuclear proliferation have escalated.
With the election of President Clinton, who quietly supported a comprehensive ban during his campaign, the momentum in Congress has been shifting in that direction. The momentum picked up in May when an interagency working group in the Clinton administration circulated a draft proposal to conduct a half dozen nuclear tests under one kiloton of yield.
Pushed by nuclear laboratories and factions in the Defense Department, this proposal clearly violated the spirit and letter of the 1992 legislation.
The administration is now deeply divided, with the Department of Energy reportedly opposed to a resumption of testing. The Navy, whose Trident warheads were among the candidates for safety testing and upgrading, also let it be known that it has no desire to spend precious defense dollars on changing warheads whose safety already has been improved by new procedures for loading missiles and warheads into submarines.
Clinton has now indicated that he would bar further tests if there is sufficient congressional opposition. But he should do so because a test resumption would be wrong. He should not pass up one of the easiest, yet most profound opportunities in his administration to assume moral leadership on an issue of global importance.
He should wrap himself in the mantle of JFK and secure for himself a place in history by finally achieving the long elusive comprehensive test ban.