Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze is expected to offer a 40% cut in offensive nuclear warheads when he presents details of the Kremlin’s latest arms offer during a meeting Wednesday with Secretary of State George P. Shultz, a congressman who specializes in arms control issues said Monday.
Shevardnadze, who will meet Shultz at the United Nations in New York, also is expected to propose a limit of 60% on how much of a nation’s nuclear force can be concentrated in land-based missiles, said the source, who spoke on the condition he not be identified.
The remainder of the nuclear arsenal would be divided between submarine-based missiles and bombers.
The congressman said he based his forecast on his “contacts” and said his remarks were “interpolations” from information he received last week. He is familiar with both the state of U.S.-Soviet arms negotiations in Geneva and with recent discussions in Moscow between a group of senators and high-ranking Soviet officials.
He described the anticipated Soviet offer as “a fairly serious proposal, which will force the Reagan Administration to bite the bullet” on the question of exchanging the so-called “Star Wars” missile defense system for Soviet concessions on offensive weapons. Thus far, he said, there is “no proposal on the table that is serious.”
Both Soviet offers, if they materialize, could advance the arms negotiations process as preparations move into high gear for the Nov. 19-20 summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The proposals could also help ease Administration officials’ anxieties that the present size and composition of the Soviet nuclear force might permit a surprise attack, or first strike, against the United States.
Before the U.S.-Soviet arms talks in Geneva recessed last July, Moscow’s negotiators had hinted that they were willing to introduce such proposals, although they provided no details.
But even should the Soviets come forward with the offers now, U.S. officials cautioned, they may turn out to include unacceptable details.
A key unknown, for example, is whether a 40% cut in offensive warheads would result in reductions in warhead-carrier vehicles, such as missiles and fighter-bombers, or in warheads and bombs, or in “total destructiveness,” a calculation that includes such components as the yield of warheads and bombs.
Three years ago, the United States proposed a 33% cut in warheads of missiles only, from about 7,500 to 5,000 on each side. The 40% figure, if limited to warheads, might simply reflect the fact that both Moscow and Washington have added several hundred missile warheads to their arsenals since then--and thus, such a cut from around 8,000 each would still leave the total at 5,000 each.
However, the Soviets probably want to include in their figure bombs and cruise missile warheads--in which the United States claims superior numbers--which could cause the Administration to balk and further complicate any assessment of the significance of the offers.
Similarly, one U.S. official said that a 60% limit on the proportion of Soviet weapons in land-based missiles may not be sufficient to satisfy the Administration--particularly if that ceiling does not restrict the number of warheads that could be placed atop the missiles.
The fate of the Soviet proposals could also depend on U.S. willingness to accept potential restrictions on its “Star Wars” program. President Reagan has shown no interest in trading his controversial effort, on which Moscow repeatedly has sought curbs, for Soviet limits on offensive weapons.
Shevardnadze and Shultz plan to meet regularly to exchange views during the annual U.N. General Assembly sessions in New York. This year, they are expected to devote considerable time to the agenda for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit.
Separately, Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, told reporters Monday that “the chance for a conceptual breakthrough” at the summit--in which the framework of a trade between offensive and defensive weapons is achieved--will depend on the terms that Shevardnadze presents this week.