U.S. and Soviet negotiators resume work here today on a treaty to cut their nations' strategic nuclear arsenals in half, but sharp differences emerged in statements the two delegations delivered as they arrived. The chief U.S. negotiator, Max M. Kampelman, acknowledged that "there is no guarantee of success."
The negotiators will be trying to work out a treaty to be ready for signatures by late May or early June, when President Reagan is tentatively scheduled to visit Moscow for a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
But the summit is not conditioned on success here in Geneva, and this adds to the doubt that any quick-fix treaty will emerge from these talks, which are known as START, for strategic arms reduction talks.
'Star Wars' Testing
The chief point of contention is the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, President Reagan's "Star Wars" program, and the extent to which such a missile defense program can be researched, developed and tested under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The chief Soviet negotiator, Alexei A. Obukhov, said in his arrival statement here that "compliance with obligations under the ABM treaty is essential for maintaining strategic stability, and is therefore a necessary prerequisite for implementing 50% reductions in Soviet and U.S. strategic weapons."
But Kampelman said the United States is ready to sign a treaty to reduce strategic arsenals without an agreement on extension of the ABM treaty. He said it is "desirable but not necessary, in our view," to reach agreement on an interpretation of what is or is not permitted under that treaty in developing the SDI system.
The United States, Kampelman said, is fully satisfied that development work on the SDI program falls within the limits of the ABM treaty. He said that Soviet statements made during negotiations on that earlier treaty support this interpretation.
Agree on Extension
When Reagan and Gorbachev met last month in Washington, both sides agreed that the ABM treaty should be extended for a period of either seven or ten years and that the two countries would work toward a new agreement to reduce strategic arsenals. Obukhov's arrival statement tied these two agreements together, but Kampelman said:
"We haven't any doubt as to what should happen, although I do not know what will happen. What should happen is when we get agreement on the aspects of START to cut our nuclear arsenals, we should proceed to put it into effect. It has been our strong view since March of 1985 that when we complete a subject to our mutual satisfaction, we proceed to sign that treaty and get it ratified, without additional conditions. Then with respect to the remaining subjects we continue to negotiate and discuss those."
This is not the Soviet position going into this round of talks. Obukhov spoke of the need for agreement on "conditions of non-withdrawal from the ABM treaty," and said that "I would like to emphasize that reaching agreement on the preservation of the ABM treaty is of particular importance."
The Soviets, in other words, are insisting that there must be an understanding on what research and development is permitted under the ABM treaty, and this agreement must be tied to a 50% cut in strategic arms "as a necessary prerequisite."
This seems to be a wide gap in principle, if not in detailed negotiations, to be bridged in only four months.
It is true, however, that the Soviets have gone into nuclear talks with the United States three times now with a similar position of "linkage" between curtailment of the SDI program and agreement on nuclear arms reductions. Each time the issue of linkage has been finessed, or set aside, but never has it been entirely abandoned.
The first time was the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting in Geneva in November, 1985. The linkage issue was raised again at their second summit in October, 1986, at Reykjavik, Iceland, and then for the third time last month in Washington.
At the latter, the two leaders issued a statement that they had agreed to "commit the sides to observe the ABM Treaty, as signed in 1972, while conducting their research, development and testing as required, which are permitted by the ABM treaty." But they are still quite far apart on what is permitted.
Also, as this round of talks begins, the Soviets have taken the position that they will have the right to abrogate any treaty reducing strategic nuclear forces if the United States deploys a space defense system that, in the Soviet view, upsets the strategic balance or is, in effect, a breach of the ABM treaty.
Kampelman emphasized in his arrival statement that there will be no deployment "until there has been an opportunity for full consultations between us" and that "we would like to begin those consultations now."