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Soviet arms control initiative may clarify stance on `star wars'. Leading Soviet scientist casts light on Kremlin thinking

By Elizabeth PondStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 3, 1986

Cologne, West Germany

As news of a new Soviet arms control offer leaked out in Washington last weekend, one of the Soviet Union's top scientists in the area of space and space weapons was in West Germany addressing the final session of the Sixth Congress of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Roald Sagdeev, director of space research of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, cited the negotiators agreement on confidentiality and declined to comment on the Geneva talks as such. In a tandem interview with American physicist Richard Garwin, however, Mr. Sagdeev cast some light on the thinking behind the latest Soviet proposal.

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The offer could for the first time bring into the Soviet position at the Geneva talks a distinction between permitted ``star wars'' research and banned ``star wars'' testing and development in space, according to the New York Times.

Linking mutual restraint in President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative programs to deep cuts in offensive warheads, it would reportedly seek to strengthen and clarify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and extend it for the next 15 or 20 years. SDI (or ``star wars'') is Mr. Reagan's research program into space-based defense.

The superpowers once agreed on this differentiation between research and testing back in the ABM Treaty, and in the past year, Soviet leaders have publicly floated the idea of making such a distinction in the case of current space-defense efforts. Until now, however, official Soviet negotiators had never translated these public feelers into negotiating offers and had insisted that all research in space defense against missiles was impermissible.

Obversely, until now, United States spokesmen have always argued that Soviet insistence on banning all research in space defense was not serious, since lab research is unverifiable.

And US officials have been deliberately ambiguous about whether the US would keep SDI testing within ABM limits when the issue would first affect the SDI program in 1988/89.

Excerpts from the Sagdeev/Garwin conversation dealing with the ABM Treaty follow:

Sagdeev: I feel that the decision which was made by Reagan administration to follow the restricted interpretation about ABM Treaty and at the same time to say they feel free with more wide interpretation, [resembles] the same approach to the SALT II [the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty].

[Sagdeev was referring to last fall's duel in which hawks within the Reagan administration won a legal interpretation that the ABM Treaty would bar virtually nothing in the SDI program -- and administration moderates then won a presidential policy statement that the US would nonetheless stay within a strict interpretation of the treaty in SDI or other programs.]

They said we do not ratify SALT II, but we would follow it. And this type of approach, as now we see, [in last week's statement saying that Washington no longer feels bound by 1979's SALT II] has brought SALT II almost on the verge of collapse.