Dole Threatens to End Debate on Arms Pact
Frustrated by a band of die-hard conservatives, the Senate’s Republican leader threatened Monday night to seek to cut off debate on the text of the U.S.-Soviet medium-range missile treaty so the pact can be ratified before the end of the impending Moscow summit.
As the Senate ended a week of debate, still far from settling the key issues blocking ratification, Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said he had discussed the possible move with Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and that the subject would be brought up at a Republican caucus this morning.
‘Want to Serve Notice’
Saying he was not happy at the prospect, Dole added: “I do want to serve notice that it may come to that.”
But Byrd suggested that Democrats will be hesitant to see debate on the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty ended. “I would want to be sure,” he said, “that cloture does not create a problem for senators on this side who have legitimate amendments.”
Led by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), treaty opponents have kept the debate focused on the text for a full week. Senators acknowledge that the most serious problems will not be tackled until consideration moves to the accompanying resolution of ratification, which will include members’ “reservations” and “understandings” on the document.
As Dole and Byrd discussed the possibility of invoking cloture so they could proceed to the resolution, the band of opponents still had an undetermined number of amendments waiting.
Dole said that he had met privately with Helms on Monday afternoon and asked how many more amendments the North Carolina senator would propose but that Helms had “said he wasn’t certain.”
The slogging pace shortened tempers in the Senate and dominated a closed-door meeting between Republican senators and Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Meeting with 16 Republicans late Monday, Shultz warned that the summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev will be diminished unless the President is prepared to exchange documents completing ratification of the new medium-range missile pact.
“There’s a time to inquire, and there’s also a time to vote,” Shultz told reporters after leaving the meeting, suggesting that it is time to “show the world that the United States can come to closure.” His remark referred to a point he made inside the private meeting, where, according to senators present, he pointed out that the United States has not ratified an arms accord with the Soviets since 1972.
Shultz turned up the pressure on Republican supporters of the pact some hours after Dole declared that the foot-dragging was “embarrassing to our party and the President.”
At the time of the session with Shultz, another amendment by a leading opponent, judged by supporters to be an effort to kill the agreement, was being offered. Sponsored by Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.), it would delay implementation until the United States and the Soviet Union ratify a pact reducing the arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons.
Earlier Monday, senators brushed aside warnings by Helms that the Soviets could hide a clandestine force numbering perhaps hundreds of SS-20 ballistic missiles.
The mobile SS-20, armed with three warheads and aimed at targets in Western Europe, is banned by the agreement signed by Reagan and Gorbachev last December. So are all other land-based missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles.
In an amendment offered Monday, Helms sought to delay implementation of the treaty until the President certifies to the Senate that the Soviets have provided the United States an honest accounting of their SS-20 inventory. The provision was swept aside by a vote of 81 to 13, a margin similar to that of amendments put to a vote last week.
Indicating the sentiment against amendments that would require the pact to be renegotiated, senators defeated another proposed change to the text, which supporters conceded had merit.
In a drafting error, treaty negotiators used language that seems to give the Soviet Union the opportunity to produce two new missile stages outwardly similar to those of the SS-20. The intent had been to permit the Soviets to produce one such rocket stage, the first stage of its SS-25, an intercontinental missile not covered by the treaty.
Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) proposed adding clarifying language, and several treaty supporters, including Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, agreed that steps are needed to prevent any misunderstanding.
But Nunn and others still refused to support changes in the treaty text, suggesting that the matter should be handled in the resolution of ratification or in an exchange of letters between the two governments.
Wallop’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 68 to 26, causing the angry Wyoming senator to complain that the Senate was “sleepwalking” and acting “under a state of suspended judgment.”