Secretary of State George P. Shultz is fond of saying that negotiations "aren't over until they're over." But it turned out Friday that he had been 12 hours premature in announcing complete U.S.-Soviet agreement on implementing the medium-range missile agreement.
Negotiators were busy through Thursday night in Geneva ironing out a problem raised by the Soviets after Shultz's announcement.
Indeed, the agreement was in Washington before the deal was finally done in Geneva. The document had to be amended by telephone after it was initialed by U.S. and Soviet representatives early Friday.
The problem, as a senior U.S. official explained it, involved 66 centimeters, or about 26 inches, in connection with the length of Soviet missile canisters. The treaty grants the United States the right to inspect canisters of a certain size to ensure that Soviet SS-20 missiles banned by the treaty are not being smuggled out of the Soviet production facility at Votkinsk.
Shultz told reporters in Brussels, after briefing NATO allies on the Geneva talks, that the outcome Friday morning was "completely satisfactory . . . even slightly better than what we went in with" Thursday evening, when the Soviets asked unexpectedly for reconsideration of one of the nine items that had been in dispute.
Not all nine issues were created by Soviet refusal to accept the obvious readings of the treaty and its related documents, it was learned.
Contrary to the impression given by U.S. negotiators, at least one problem was caused by the U.S. Army, which wanted to redraw the boundary around an Army facility. In a map submitted to the Soviets when the treaty was signed in December, a major interstate highway was erroneously included in the map of the depot.
The highway would have to be closed, creating traffic jams, when the Soviets inspect the facility under the terms of the treaty, and the Army asked U.S. officials to seek Soviet permission to exclude the highway from the area to be inspected.
The Soviets agreed, an official said Friday, but "as we would do in a similar situation, they wanted something in return." The Soviets wanted to classify some buildings within a base as off-limits to U.S. inspectors.
In the end, the United States withdrew its request for a boundary change and refused to accept the Soviet request.
Asked why he thought the Soviets had come back with last-minute objections, Shultz said: "They're hard bargainers. They keep trying us on for size to see if we'll let go of things we think important."
But in fact, U.S. officials conceded, the Soviets won the right to ship out of Votkinsk canisters containing missiles other than the SS-20 that are larger in diameter than the SS-20 but shorter in length.
The Soviets apparently raised the problem to prevent the United States from getting a free look at a different, and presumably new, Soviet missile being made at Votkinsk that was inadvertently "captured" by the inspection rules as written Thursday afternoon.
However, the final provisions continue to ensure U.S. rights to guard against illegal SS-20 production, U.S. officials maintain. This was done by specifying that the maximum length of an SS-20 missile canister allowed out of Votkinsk will be 14 meters (46 feet, 2 inches) and that the length of the missile (as shipped from the factory with two stages but no nose cone) is 14 meters, 66 centimeters (48 feet, 4 inches). The 66-centimeter difference represent a margin of safety for the United States in case the specified length of an SS-20 missile is incorrect.
At the news conference here before returning to Washington, Shultz repeated that all the disputed issues have now been settled and that the new agreements are ready for examination by senators who have held up ratification of the intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.