Last-minute problems holding up the US-USSR medium-range missile pact are serious but solvable, according to many Washington analysts. The disputes center on the rights of American missile inspectors in the Soviet Union. In recent talks on inspection rules, the Soviet Union has fudged on details that the United States thought were settled by treaty language.
``It's like when you go to buy a new car,'' says an administration source familiar with the issue. ``You say it's in the contract that the pin stripes and side mirror are included. But the dealer still tries to charge you 60 bucks extra.''
On Monday, Senate leaders said the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty will not be open for debate on the Senate floor until these verification differences have been solved. Debate had tentatively been set to begin today.
The move dims the prospect that the INF pact will be approved by the Senate in time for President Reagan to stage a final signing ceremony with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the summit coming up in Moscow. But a number of senators say they are still confident that Senate approval will eventually be forthcoming.
``It seems to me there are things to be clarified, as opposed to a great deal of argumentation that's insoluble,'' said Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana.
Senate majority leader Robert Byrd said yesterday that the treaty is ``on the back burner,'' but that the disputes could be settled later this week when Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze meets Secretary of State George Shultz in Geneva.
Administration officials say the dispute over verification details should be no surprise. Almost every treaty of importance has fine points that must be worked out by experts before the pact can go into effect.
On the INF pact the US has a list of nine outstanding verification differences. They range from whether all buildings at a site will be open to visiting inspectors to what the smallest item subject to inspection will be.
One dispute involves the rights of the US inspectors who will be stationed permanently outside a Soviet missile assembly plant at Votkinsk.
The Soviets claim these inspectors should be able to look only at canisters rolling out of the factory gates that are large enough to contain a whole missile. The US position is that smaller canisters capable of holding only a missile stage should also be open to scrutiny.
Soviet negotiators have indicated some give in their position. But ``we're having to sit down with the Soviets and say, `Well, this is what the record shows,''' says a State Department official who requested anonymity.
In Geneva, Mr. Shevardnadze said he thought all verification issues dealing with the treaty had already been solved.
Publicly, the Reagan administration agrees with the Senate that debate on INF should be put off. Privately, there is some grumbling that senators have picked an awkward time to flex their muscles on foreign policy, and that the very public announcement of a delay in the debate will only upset the Soviets and make settlement of the disputes more difficult.
The scene of President Reagan shaking hands over a treaty with General Secretary Gorbachev one more time is one that administration officials very much want to be part of the Moscow summit.
But Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Ford, said at a breakfast with reporters this week that he thinks the senatorial delay is not such a bad thing. He said it impresses on the Soviets that separation of powers between the Congress and the White House is very real, ``not just a charade that we play.''
General Scowcroft also pointed out that whatever the verification problems remaining, the fact that the Soviets have agreed at all to allow US inspectors on their territory is an extraordinary change from the secretive attitude of only a few years ago.
``This is a society that was absolutely buttoned up,'' he said.