Secretary of State George P. Shultz, in a bid to defuse a budding constitutional and diplomatic crisis, pledged Sunday that the Administration will consult with Congress and America's allies before making a critical decision on testing of components for the "Star Wars" missile defense system.
In a flurry of broadcast interviews on both sides of the Atlantic, Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), papered over most of their differences and calmed--at least for now--what had been a growing controversy over interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Not at Testing Stage
Shultz, who earlier had advised the Administration against abrupt changes in interpretation of the 15-year-old pact, said that revisions will be required if the United States chooses to conduct full-scale testing of a space-based missile defense system, formally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative. But he said there is no need to make that decision for many months because the program is not yet at the testing stage.
Shultz promised to consider the views of congressional leaders and member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization before testing is done.
His commitment appeared designed to reassure increasingly jittery European allies who have urged Washington to avoid any action that might undercut the ABM treaty.
Shultz also seemed to satisfy Nunn, who warned Friday of "a constitutional confrontation of profound proportions" if the Administration sought to change the interpretation of the ABM treaty without consulting Congress.
Nunn, probably the most respected Democrat in Congress on military matters, said on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley" that he has not yet made up his own mind on the complex issue. But he said, if the Administration forces an early decision, it will set up a confrontation with Congress and with other NATO nations "that is entirely unnecessary."
Shultz, who followed Nunn on the same broadcast, accepted all of the procedures Nunn advocated.
Shultz and Weinberger also put off a potential conflict over the schedule for deploying a missile defense system, if one can be developed. Weinberger wants to deploy the first phase of the system as soon as possible, while Shultz believes that there should be no deployment until the outlines of the complete system have become clear.
Although that difference of opinion remains, Shultz and Weinberger agreed Sunday that it will not be possible to decide on deployment, even of a partial system, until after they and the rest of the Administration have left office.
"It is not possible to make any such decision this year or next year," Shultz said of initial deployment.
Weinberger, interviewed by British Broadcasting Corp. television, was asked how near the decision on initial deployment may be. He said: "We don't really know. We know we can't do it now. We know we can't do it next year."
The ABM treaty, signed by former President Richard M. Nixon and the late Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, restricts the United States and the Soviet Union to a single limited missile defense system each. It also places strict controls on the testing of ABM components.
However, Weinberger and his Pentagon aides contend that the treaty does not ban the testing of systems based on technology unknown in 1972. This view--the "broad" interpretation of the pact--would permit most "Star Wars" testing. The Administration announced last year that it would continue to abide by the "narrow" interpretation of the treaty, in effect banning much possible testing, although it said that it believes the broader interpretation is justified.
The Soviet Union, which has set as its highest arms control priority an attempt to ban the U.S. missile defense program, maintains that the broad interpretation would violate the treaty. Moscow has said it will be impossible to reach agreement to limit offensive nuclear weapons if Washington persists in its strategic defense program.
Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who, as Nixon's national security adviser, played a key role in negotiating the ABM treaty, said that 15 years ago, the United States pushed for the narrow interpretation, while the Soviet Union wanted the broad interpretation. He said the language was left ambiguous on the point, although a literal reading of the pact could sustain the broad interpretation.
"Now the two sides have switched positions," Kissinger said on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press."
Nunn agreed that the treaty, itself, is ambiguous. But he said the narrow interpretation has been in use for 15 years and to switch to the broad version now would "take the treaty and stand it on its head."
If the Administration is determined to conduct tests that would be prohibited by the traditional interpretation of the pact, Nunn said, "the honorable way to proceed" would be to abrogate the treaty entirely.
Either side is permitted to withdraw from the treaty after giving six months notice, and Weinberger said Sunday that it would be necessary to terminate the treaty "when we're ready to deploy" any components of the system.