Washington — In strongest language, former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance argues that the SALT II treaty "stands at the very heart of a sensible and far-seeing American foreign policy." But recent events make SALT passage by the US Congress very difficult at this time.
Edmund S. Muskie, who succeeded Mr. Vance a month ago as secretary of state, declares that because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan there are not sufficient votes in the US Senate to ratify the treaty. Mr. Muskie says there will be another try at getting SALT II ratified, but he doesn't say when.
Two false alerts by US Defense Department electronic monitors last week that a Soviet missile attack had been launched gave chilling emphasis to the stakes involved in the bogged-down effort by the superpowers to limit nuclear arms.
In his June 5 Harvard University commencement speech, Mr. Vance began five paragraphs with the phrase "without this treaty" and told the elements involved, declaring the treaty would limit nuclear weapons, allow the US to "know what is going on within the Soviet Union," and keep arms control alive.
Following the Vance speech, Mr. Muskie declared in Washington that administration plans were afoot to revive SALT II in the Senate. The biggest obstacle to the treaty is the constitutional provision requiring Senate ratification by a two-thirds vote. This, in effect, gives 34 senators veto power.
Many senators are demanding that reservations be attached to the SALT treaty.
President Carter and Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, signed the strategic arms limitation treaty in June 1979 in Vienna, as the centerpiece of detente. Mr. vance had gone to Moscow earlier, and during 1978 the Carter administration tried to build up support for SALT II in the Senate.
In December 1978 Mr. Carter announced his decision to resume diplomatic relations with China, which upset the Kremlin. Two batches of senators visited Moscow; they offered criticism of detente on their return to the US.
Then came the Cuban "crisis." A Russian detachment long stationed in Cuba was reported by US intelligence agencies to have gone off on combat maneuvers. The revelation was entrusted to Sen. Frank Church (D) of Idaho, a supporter of the SALT treaty who is facing a difficult re-election campaign. He proposed that the treaty not be ratified until the matter of the troops in Cuba was explained.
Moscow did nothing about the so-called "combat brigade," and Mr. Carter ultimately dropped the matter.
Meanwhile, NATO countries discussed installation of new nuclear missiles in Western Europe. This series of developments may have shifted the balance of forces within the Russian Politburo from detente to aggression: It dropped caution and became aggressive. The Communist puppet government in Afghanistan was having trouble, and Soviet troops were sent in -- ultimately building up to a force of 80,000 to 100,000 men.
Now Mr. Vance, in his speech at Harvard, appeals for the SALT treaty and detente.