Democrats predicted Monday that President Reagan's failure to achieve an arms control agreement in Iceland will cause Congress to take control of U.S. nuclear policy--trimming funding for the "Star Wars" defense system and forcing the President to abide by the unratified 1979 strategic arms limitation treaty.
Liberal Democrats condemned Reagan for clinging to the unproven "Star Wars" space-based missile defense system while rejecting what Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) described as "a grand and historic opportunity" to achieve big reductions in the world's nuclear arsenal.
"The President has sent the world a message that he does not want arms control--that he has put his faith in the stardust and moonbeams of his 'Star Wars' fantasies," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), an arms control advocate.
"I think the President made a big mistake," Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.) added.
Praise From GOP
In contrast, Republican loyalists praised the President for rejecting restraints that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev proposed to put on "Star Wars," the informal name for the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Republicans generally agreed with Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who described the President's negotiating posture as "bold and creative" and supported his refusal to foreclose deployment of SDI. But even Lugar acknowledged that Reagan will be forced to defend the program against cuts by Congress.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) noted that shortly before the Iceland meeting, the Democrats abandoned an attempt to force the President to accept a nuclear test ban and continue compliance with the 1979 strategic arms limitation treaty, known as SALT II.
"We stepped aside, and nothing came about as a result," he said.
'Get Into the Act'
Thus, he added, there is "greater recognition that perhaps Congress needs to get into the act now."
Democrats conceded that it is probably too late for Congress to take any legislative action before final adjournment later this week. Lugar said he has been assured by Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, the Democrats' leading spokesman on defense issues, that they will continue to abide by a legislative agreement on arms control issues worked out last Friday.
However, Cranston, Dicks and others predicted that the Democrats will respond by stepping up pressure on the President to keep him from violating SALT II later this year, as he is expected to do. They also predicted that Democrats will mount an effort early next year to slash funding for the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Dicks said many liberals who have supported continued "Star Wars" funding on the assumption that it would be a bargaining chip in U.S.-Soviet talks will now reconsider their position.
'Lot More Scrutiny'
"Obviously," he said, "next year people will view it as a weapons system and not as a bargaining chip. It's going to get a lot more scrutiny."
Later this week, Congress is expected to agree to spend about $3.5 billion for "Star Wars" in the current fiscal year--an increase of about $500 million over last year but $1.8 billion less than the President had requested. This figure is not expected to be changed.
Nunn criticized the President and his supporters for clinging to an unrealistic view of SDI.
"The way a lot of well-meaning right-wingers describe it," he said, "is sort of like a candy store: We have that thing sitting there on the shelf, and all we have to do is pull it off and we can go out there and destroy all the Soviet missiles."
Nunn noted that the Administration has no idea whether its "Star Wars" system can be deployed.
"We're going to be 10 to 15 years away from deciding whether the program will work," he said. "Then, we've got to decide whether it is cost-effective."