Democrats Seek to Require U.S. to Observe SALT
House Democrats announced plans Monday to introduce legislation that would reverse President Reagan’s decision to abandon the 1979 strategic arms limitation treaty, and lawmakers of both parties were said to be angry that Reagan failed to report by Feb. 1 on the treaty’s impact on the Soviet nuclear arsenal, as required by law.
Aides said that Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Dante Fascell (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are planning to introduce legislation that would write each of the treaty’s arms limits into U.S. law and prohibit the President from violating them unless the Soviets do.
SALT Already Abandoned
The SALT II pact, which sets a ceiling of 1,200 on multiple warhead missiles, has been observed by the Administration even though the U.S. Senate never ratified it. Last week, however, Reagan said he will abandon that policy unless the Soviet Union stops violating the treaty and makes substantial progress toward arms control.
Although Reagan said that a modernization program for the Air Force’s B-52 bombers will put the United States in violation of the treaty’s terms later this year, Administration officials including Secretary of State George P. Shultz have since said that the United States has in effect already abandoned SALT II.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) predicted that a bill similar to the House legislation will be offered in the Senate to write into law the treaty limits, which he characterized as “the only existing restraint on the Soviet nuclear buildup.” He also accused Reagan of giving in to right-wing pressure by announcing abandonment of the treaty.
“The President’s decision to repudiate the SALT agreement is a triumph of ideology over common sense,” he said. “The rabid right is spoiling for a new escalation of the arms race against the Soviet Union, and now their unrelenting, systematic anti-SALT campaign has finally won the acquiescence of the President.”
Dennis Culkin, defense analyst for Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), said that members of Congress believe the President has failed to make the report on the Soviet arsenal, as required by a law passed last year, because it would show that SALT II has been an effective restraint on the Soviet buildup.
‘They Cannot Fudge It’
“When it comes to comparisons and projections, they cannot fudge it,” he said.
In a related development, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who led an observer team to the Geneva arms talks, said Monday that U.S.-Soviet arms negotiations have reached a “turning point” that has improved prospects for an agreement providing for mutual reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers.
Stevens, whose delegation just returned from Geneva, said he is now “optimistic” about the prospects for arms reduction and predicted that the coming summit between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev would play “a big role” in producing such an agreement.
At the White House, officials continued to make their case that the President’s decision was a justifiable response to Soviet violations of the treaty. They cited previously overlooked evidence that the Soviets have violated an overall ceiling of 2,504 on strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.
30 Aging Bombers
Arms control experts said that the White House was referring to the Soviets’ decision to keep 30 aging Bison bombers in service as tanker planes.
Although the ceiling of 2,504 is not explicitly included in the treaty, a White House spokesman said that the number was implied by the limits set in each specific weapons category and that the Soviets had made “a political commitment” to abide by it.
“We’re not the ones who are bringing SALT to a bitter and untimely end,” a White House official said. “It’s the Soviets who are doing this, and you can’t have one-sided arms control.”
In a telephone interview, Stevens said: “I am quite hopeful that there is a turning point. The Soviets have every reason after Chernobyl to get something related to peace,” he said, referring to the Soviet nuclear plant disaster in the Ukraine in late April.
Stevens, who has visited the talks on several occasions, said that even the tone of the meetings was “friendlier” than those he had observed in the past.
While Democrats in Congress were condemning Reagan’s decision to abandon the 1979 strategic arms limitation treaty as a step that would unleash the arms race, Stevens argued that the move has actually helped the prospects for arms control. He said it will shift the focus of the talks from defending current arms limits to reducing those limits.
“What the President has done has solidified our position in those negotiations,” he said. “I do not expect the President to take action to upset the balance contemplated by SALT II.”
Reason for Optimism
Although Stevens declined to discuss any details, his optimism appeared to be based on a reported offer last Thursday by Soviet negotiators who pledged to begin reducing their nuclear arsenal in exchange for a U.S. pledge of a long-term commitment to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Stevens said that the prospects for a U.S.-Soviet arms pact have been improved by Shultz’s statement that the United States would continue to abide by the ABM treaty. However, in interviews over the weekend, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger rejected the idea of an extension of the ABM treaty that would prohibit development of Reagan’s space-based missile defense system.