Next on arms talks. A pact eliminating shorter-range nuclear missiles, which appears certain now, is seen as significant primarily for the momentum it could impart to talks on strategic weapons. And it will boost Gorbachev at home. Stories below, Page 9.
Is there life after INF? Now that Moscow and Washington are wrapping up an agreement to ban all intermediate-range nuclear forces - INF - the question is whether the superpowers can resolve the major stumbling block to a broader accord on strategic nuclear arms. The obstacle is President Reagan's ``star wars'' program and reinterpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.Skip to next paragraph
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Publicly, both sides are sending out positive signals.
White House officials say they are encouraged by the talks between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, and also by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's recent statement suggesting that a START (strategic arms talks) agreement is possible in early 1988. Mr. Gorbachev mentioned the possibility not only of a fall summit this year but also of another summit meeting next year.
``I'm guardedly optimistic,'' says a high White House official of the prospects for a START pact. ``They are very tough bargainers, and I think it is never useful to give away your own bargaining position. But I think the very fact that the general secretary has made favorable remarks about the next and next after that summit in prospect is mildly encouraging.''
Administration officials also note that Gorbachev did not make any linkage between the President's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program and START. This new flexibility was reflected in the Shultz-Shevardnadze talks this past week.
The Soviets say they realize they cannot persuade Reagan to abandon his plans for a space-based antimissile defense system and are therefore focusing on making a START agreement contingent on strict compliance with the ABM treaty. The difficulty is that the administration has adopted a broad interpretation of the treaty in order to pursue its SDI plans.
``We want you to stick to the ABM treaty for 10 years and we hope - though we don't say that - that in 10 years you will change your mind on SDI,'' said Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov on Friday. In 10 years time, the Soviets calculate, they will be dealing with a different administration and SDI may have turned into a pipe dream.
The ABM treaty is the key to unlocking the START door, and it involves not only the President's views but those of Congress as well. The Soviets are carefully watching the activities of Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who is determined to block the administration's attempted reinterpretation of the ABM treaty. The Senate recently voted to restrict any SDI testing outside the traditional or ``strict'' interpretation of the ABM pact.
The White House counts on vetoing the defense authorization bill containing these SDI curbs and on being able to sustain such a veto in the Senate. But it would then have to confront Senator Nunn's threat to reduce funding for SDI.
White House officials are concerned about the looming confrontation. ``This is the worst possible time to have a public dispute on the interpretation of the ABM treaty ...,'' says the high Reagan aide. ``It is a problem that won't go away and will have to be resolved, and I'm sure the President wishes to try to resolve it and if possible on a bipartisan basis.''