U.S., NATO Agree to Disagree on SALT II

Times Staff Writer

The United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization failed Friday to settle their differences over President Reagan’s plan to end compliance with the SALT II pact despite two days of sometimes acrimonious talks.

Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who reportedly advocated continued adherence to the treaty during the debates within the Administration that preceded Reagan’s decision this week, sounded like a lifelong critic of the pact when he told a press conference that SALT II was “obsolete, unratified and is being violated” by the Soviets.

He conceded that several allied foreign ministers disagreed sharply with the U.S. position. But he said their views had already been considered, and discounted, before Reagan announced the new U.S. policy on Tuesday.

‘Better Than No Treaty’

Lord Carrington, NATO’s secretary general, said, “There were countries that felt a flawed treaty was better than no treaty.”

Shultz, asked about the tone of the meeting in this city, capital of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, replied: “In diplomatic lingo, frank is a synonym for criticism. At the opening of the session, Mr. Carrington asked for frank discussion and we had a lot of it.”


Shultz implied that the United States might not continue to abide by all of the details of SALT II even if the Soviet Union suddenly--and unexpectedly--brings its own programs into compliance.

“We want to get away from the technicalities of what this unratified and increasingly obsolete treaty may or may not have called for and into the realities of what is the Soviet posture, what does it take for the United States to have a strong and secure deterrent,” he said.

But foreign ministers continued to hold out hope that SALT II could be salvaged.

Hope on Violations

Canadian External Affairs Minister Joe Clark said, “The alliance shares the hope that the President’s words will not be allowed to be the final words” because it is hoped the Soviets will end their violations.

“It would be premature for NATO or anyone else to prepare a coffin before there was a corpse, " he said.

He added: “We believe that it is in the interest of arms control that the limits of SALT II be respected. The ball is in the court of the Soviet Union.”

British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe said SALT II is worth continuing despite “all its shortcomings.”

Shultz dismissed hints from Moscow that the Soviet Union might cancel this year’s projected summit meeting between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev as a result of the U.S. decision on SALT II.

‘We Need to Get Busy’

“We continue to think that there are issues of importance that can be discussed (at a summit),” Shultz said. “We need to get busy with all of the homework involved in having a meeting. We hope the Soviet Union shares this view but we can’t control what they do.”

In their official communique, the NATO foreign ministers did not even mention SALT II, usually a sign that the parties were so far apart that they could not even agree on bland generalities.

The document did endorse the U.S. position at the Geneva arms control talks and it called for “bold new steps” to break an 11-year-old deadlock in negotiations on reduction of conventional forces in Europe.

The ministers decided to name a high-level task force to devise a new approach. The conventional forces talks are difficult for the alliance because the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact holds a large lead over NATO in that class of forces and has been reluctant to agree to cuts that would result in equality.

“We all know the disparity with the Warsaw Pact in conventional arms,” Carrington said. “I hope this will work, it’s a good idea.”

‘Achieved Its Goal’

“This conference achieved its goal--a political signal of the will for improved East-West relations through cooperation,” said West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. “We believe the Halifax signal should have an impact on all the existing negotiations.”

The communique also said the alliance emphasized the importance of preventing unilateral changes in the rules governing Berlin. A senior U.S. official said later that the United States, Britain and France have not yet received a reply from the Soviet Union on their informal protest of East Germany’s demand that diplomats show passports when passing through the Berlin Wall.

At his news conference, Shultz said he would visit the Middle East if he believed his intervention would result in “even the tiniest increment of progress” in the peace process.

“If I can do that, I want to do it,” he said. “That is something that is being evaluated, intensely, just now.”

Although Shultz said no decision has been made on a possible trip to the region, his comments were far more optimistic than they were Wednesday when he said, “You can’t force events when they aren’t there. . . . We’d like to push but we’ve got to have something to push with.”