Senate leaders Friday received a detailed report on U.S.-Soviet efforts to eliminate the last disputed language from the intermediate-range nuclear weapons treaty and appeared set to begin the long-anticipated ratification debate early next week.
After a two-hour closed meeting with White House National Security Adviser Colin L. Powell, key committee chairmen announced that they will hold hearings Monday and hope to report to the leadership favorably at the end of the day.
If the reports are positive, said Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the full Senate "would be in position to take up the treaty immediately."
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, emerged from the session with Powell and told reporters that the Soviets had responded to every request put to them at meetings in Geneva on Wednesday and Thursday.
"It appears to me that the answers are there," Warner said, "and they are clear."
Others who heard Powell's account of the negotiations between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said they had a positive impression of the outcome, but they said that before commenting further, they wish to study the formal documents signed after the talks.
Final consideration of the treaty, signed last December, was put on hold after technical discussions between the two countries led to disputes over the agreement's language covering on-site inspection of missile production facilities.
Despite the likelihood of moving the final debate to the Senate floor next week, it is still uncertain whether Senate approval can be completed before President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev meet in Moscow at the end of the month.
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the foremost opponent of the agreement, said Friday that he expects to offer about a dozen amendments during the debate. He said his object is not to kill the pact but "to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
Although he is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Helms did not attend the midday session with Powell in the majority leader's office.
Among the amendments he will offer on the Senate floor, he said, is one that would withdraw American forces from Europe upon ratification of the new U.S.-Soviet pact.
Senators still had not seen full copies of the agreements struck between Shultz and Shevardnadze. However, shortly after the meeting with Powell, they released the text of one agreement, in which the United States and the Soviets accept a common definition of a "weapon delivery vehicle." Senators had objected because there was no such language in the treaty.
The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty stands to be the first ratified nuclear weapons pact between the United States and the Soviet Union since the SALT I accord of 1972. The new treaty bans all ground-launched missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.
Because of what it considered airtight verification provisions, the Reagan Administration had, at the time of its signing, hoped to see the treaty sail through to easy Senate approval. They also had high hopes of completing another agreement, covering intercontinental-range missiles, in time for the Moscow summit.
Since negotiators have been unable to complete the more complex agreement on strategic arms, the Administration has called for prompt approval of the medium-range missile pact, so that the documents of ratification may be exchanged at the summit.
Most senators have staunchly insisted that they will not permit the summit schedule to influence the coming debate.
Just days before the agreement was to be taken up on the floor, the Senate leadership put it on hold, citing four general areas in which they demanded clarification. The most serious problems were nine specific issues in the treaty's on-site verification provisions, and they became the focal point of the Shultz-Shevardnadze pre-summit conference this week in Geneva.
On Monday, Shultz will appear before the Foreign Relations Committee, which has formal jurisdiction over the treaty, while arms negotiator Maynard W. Glitman and other officials are expected to testify before a closed joint session of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees.