Soviets Stall on Chemical Arms, U.S. Aides Say
U.S. officials, who were once optimistic that the new Soviet leadership would speed progress toward a treaty banning chemical weapons, now say negotiations to produce such a pact have stumbled on what one described Friday as “hard-nosed, direct differences.”
Another official, Douglas J. Feith, a deputy assistant secretary of defense who is monitoring the talks, said that “there is not much progress and not much prospect for progress.”
A key obstacle appears to be the Soviet refusal to allow inspection on short notice of sites that the United States believes may be involved in chemical weapons activities.
The negotiations, which have proceeded intermittently in Geneva since 1981, resumed this week, with the Soviet representative, Viktor L. Issraelyan, “hitting the United States for stalling,” an Administration official said.
The official said that chief U.S. delegate Donald Lowitz on Thursday relayed President Reagan’s interest that the United States, the Soviet Union and the 38 other nations at the conference “intensify our efforts.”
Chemical Arms Modernization
While the negotiations continue in Geneva, the United States is pressing ahead with efforts to modernize its chemical weapons, which were last produced in 1969.
Congress approved funding to make such weapons after rejecting Reagan Administration money requests for five years. The chemicals would be delivered to targets in 155-millimeter shells or in “Bigeye” bombs.
However, a report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said that “testing to date has not been able to demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of the Bigeye,” a 500-pound bomb that would spray poisonous chemicals on impact.
The GAO report, made public earlier this week, was criticized by Thomas J. Welch, deputy assistant secretary of defense for chemical matters, and John E. Krings, head of the Pentagon office that oversees tests of new weapons. The officials said at a Pentagon news conference Thursday that the agency’s criticism was not based on data from the most recent tests.
The use of chemical weapons has been banned since 1925 by the Geneva Protocol, but the pact does not prohibit their production or storage. Reports of their use by Iraq in its war with Iran and by Soviet troops against rebels in Afghanistan have brought renewed attention to the negotiations.
Alternative to A-Arms
Because chemical weapons are considered an alternative to nuclear weapons, concern has been raised that they could be used in Central Europe at the start of an East-West conflict.
However, a speech on Jan. 15 by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who became the Kremlin leader in March, 1985, left U.S. officials more optimistic than they had been in the past on the prospects for progress in the chemical weapons talks.
In an address that focused on several arms control efforts, Gorbachev said the Soviet Union favored “early and complete elimination” of chemical weapons and the industrial plants at which they are produced.
Gorbachev said the Soviet Union was “ready to start developing procedures for destroying the relevant industrial base and to proceed soon after the convention enters into force to eliminate the stockpile of chemical weapons.” Moreover, he said that, under this proposal, compliance would be strictly monitored and that “international on-site inspections” would take place.
But, while his speech encouraged the Adminstration, Soviet negotiators meeting privately with their American counterparts in the weeks after the speech “did not elaborate” on it, said Michael Krepon, an arms control expert at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
“There’s a pattern the Soviets are following,” he said. “They make splashy statements, they suggest greater openness, but they withhold the fine print.”
A State Department official, speaking on the condition that he not be further identified, said the talks are focusing on four areas: destruction of stockpiles; destruction of production facilities; monitoring of the civil chemical industry, and resolution of questions relating to compliance.
In those negotiations, he said, “there are just hard-nosed, direct differences in the way we see things.”
The official said the United States and Soviet Union agree that on-site inspections should be allowed to monitor compliance with any treaty providing for destruction of on-site chemical weapons stockpiles. But, he said, the United States favors early disclosure of the size and locations of stockpiles, while the Soviet Union insists that this step occur much later in the disarmament process.
A Soviet proposal to monitor the destruction of chemical weapons production sites covered only half of the facilities, and the Soviets have made a proposal--unacceptable to the United States--that certain chemicals that would be used in the weapons be produced at only one site in each country, the source said.
Insistence on Inspections
But the most difficult issue, this official said, remains the U.S. insistence that each nation maintain the right to inspect locations in the other that are suspected, but undisclosed, chemical weapons sites. He said the Soviet Union has argued that compliance with such inspection requests should be “entirely voluntary.”
“The Soviets have taken a very hard line against inspection measures that would give us confidence they are respecting a ban,” said Feith, the Pentagon official monitoring the Geneva talks. “They seem to be operating on the belief it is their sovereign right to cheat.”