Delay on SALT -- a permanent one?

President Carter's decision to ask for Senate postponement of the debate on SALT II makes it appear unlikely that the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty can be ratified in 1980 -- if at all.

This is the opinion of a number of arms-control specialists interviewed after the White House announcement Jan. 3 that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made consideration of SALT "inappropriate at this time," Monitor correspondent Daniel Southerland reports.

The President's original hope had been to have the Senate floor debate on SALT begin early this year. It would then have been possible to submit the treaty for a ratification vote in early spring. But given the atmosphere of outrage here after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the President determined that at this time it would be unrealistic to hope for the two-thirds vote required to secure Senate ratification of the treaty.

The delay in consideration of SALT II will push it so far into an election year that most observers expect the Republican votes necessary to win ratification of the treaty will not be forthcoming. There is little political capital to be gained from voting for the treaty, it seems.

But for President Carter to withdraw the treaty, on which he has placed so much stress, would have amounted to admission of a major defeat in this election year. Thus, the postponement.

Even if the treaty is not ratified this year, Mr. Carter might be able unilaterally to continue American adherence to SALT limits in the hope that the Soviets would reciprocate.

A rapid Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan might change the prospects for SALT II ratification. But such a withdrawal does not appear to be likely. Current resistance by the Afghans to the Soviets indicates that they are more likely to be digging in for a long, hard fight.

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