Democrats, Some Republicans, Asking Reagan To Honor SALT II Limits
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Key Democrats in Congress, with some GOP support, are trying to persuade President Reagan to stand by a controversial arms control agreement with the Soviet Union.
As he neared a critical decision on SALT II and the size of the U.S. nuclear navy, more than 150 members of the House signed a letter Monday telling him the Soviets would activate ″hot production lines″ to add more than 8,000 intercontinental warheads to their arsenals if the treaty broke down.
Reagan scheduled a White House meeting for Wednesday with his senior advisers to help him decide what to do when a new Trident nuclear submarine begins sea trials next month.
A U.S. official said all but two of the advisers - Secretary of State George Shultz and veteran envoy Paul H. Nitze - were recommending he allow U.S. missile strength to crack the ceiling set in the unratified agreement.
These included Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Casey, U.S. arms control director Kenneth L. Adelman and Edward L. Rowny, a senior arms control adviser, said the official, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
To stay within the treaty’s limit of 2,504 delivery vehicles, the president would have to order two older Poseidon submarines or land-based Minuteman missiles dismantled.
The letter, prepared by Rep. Dante B. Fascell, D-Fla., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, drew some senior Republicans in support. Among them were senior Reps. Joseph M. McDade of Pennsylvania and Benjamin A. Gilman of New York.
On the Senate side, Democratic leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia appealed to Reagan to maintain U.S. treaty restraints at least through the end of the year.
In a separate letter, Byrd cited ″compelling evidence″ that by observing the treaty the United States was forcing the Soviets to limit their strategic weapons programs.
″Abandonment of SALT II compliance would give the Soviets a pretext to take advantage of a superior strategic weapons production base to add many more new warheads to their arsenals than we could add to ours in the near future,″ Byrd wrote.
The Senate voted twice last June to endorse continued U.S. compliance with the treaty. ″Since then,″ Byrd said, ″there has been no major change in the strategic nuclear relationship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. which would warrant abandoning that policy.″
The president’s decision could have a major impact on the future of arms control and on planning for his summit meeting here with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Both the date and the agenda are unsettled.
Fascell said it would be ″sheer folly″ to undercut SALT II, which imposed limits on various kinds of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons.
He said the Soviets would add multi-warhead and cruise missiles, as well as heavy bombers, to their arsenals. Also, he said, future negotiations and the summit meeting would be jeopardized.
Fascell called former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and Ralph Earle, a former director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, to testify before the House Arms Control subcommittee.
Reagan accused the Soviets of violating the accord and other agreements in a report to Congress in January 1984, and he has repeated the accusations several times. ″We know there have been violations,″ he said at a news conference last Wednesday.
But when faced with a similar decision last summer, the president ordered a Poseidon broken up before a Trident began sea trials. He said he chose to ″go the extra mile″ for arms control and urged the Soviets not to undercut the treaty, work hard for new accords and cooperate in tightening verification procedures.
Planning for the summit has been slow. However, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze is due here May 14-16 to meet with Shultz. A U.S. decision to surpass the SALT II limit could sour the atmosphere for that meeting.
U.S.-Soviet relations already are troubled by a virtual impasse at the negotiating table in Geneva and conflicting stands on underground nuclear testing. Reagan rejected a proposal by Gorbachev for a special summit meeting in Europe to ban all tests. The Soviets, meanwhile, have not responded to a U.S. invitation to send monitors to the U.S. test site in Nevada.
A U.S. explosion was set off March 22 and another last Thursday. On Friday, the Soviets declared an end to Gorbachev’s eight-month moratorium on weapons tests.
Asked about the 1979 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said Monday ″he will consider it this week. He will not make any final decision this week.″
But the administration official interviewed by The Associated Press said the president probably would decide what to do within two days of the meeting. He said Nitze would be sent to Europe to inform the NATO allies and Rowny to Asia for similar consultations.
″We’re running out of time,″ the official said. ″I think this is basically the decision.″