Six-and-a-half years after negotiations began, the Senate approved the landmark Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union on Friday, marking history's first cutback in offensive nuclear weapons.
After systematically rejecting a last flurry of amendments, a huge bipartisan majority voted 93 to 5 to approve the treaty. It is the first nuclear arms accord between the superpowers to be approved by the Senate since the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev.
The vote came just in time for the ratification documents to be completed at the White House and rushed to Moscow, where President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev will conclude the agreement at the summit next week.
As the final vote was announced, crowds filling the visitors' galleries above the Senate floor stood in prolonged applause.
Moments later, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the majority leader, and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the minority leader, telephoned news of the vote to Reagan in Helsinki, Finland, and were promptly invited to join the presidential party in Moscow.
In a statement released in Helsinki, Reagan said the overwhelming vote "clearly shows support for our arms control objectives."
White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. is expected to depart for Moscow today with the ratification documents, to be on hand when Reagan arrives in the Soviet capital Sunday. Plans call for the two Senate leaders to arrive in Moscow early next week.
"This is really America's treaty," Dole declared after talking with the President. "It's in the best interest of the American people."
Byrd called the treaty's approval a testament to "the steadfastness of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization)" and to bipartisan cooperation in U.S. foreign policy.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said that, although it eliminates only 4% of the superpowers' nuclear warheads, it "lays the foundation (to) enable us to move on . . . to other treaties that can substantially reduce the scale, cost and dangers of this arms race."
Even Optimists Surprised
The margin of approval surprised even optimistic supporters, who had expected perhaps 10 senators to oppose the final resolution of ratification.
In the end, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who led efforts to tack "killer amendments" to the treaty text, was joined only by Republican Sens. Gordon J. Humphrey of New Hampshire, Steve Symms of Idaho and Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming, and a lone conservative Democrat, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina.
Despite the resounding endorsement, some Republicans remained angry over an amendment that asserted the Senate's right to interpret treaties and over a late-night clash with Byrd on Thursday. The Senate majority leader accused some Republican senators of bogging down ratification with "Mickey Mouse amendments" and implied that he would block a vote if they persisted with proposals that threatened the interpretation provision he sponsored.
The fight arose over an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), that would have declared that the United States would be bound by no treaty interpretation that did not equally apply to the Soviet Union.
'A Temper Tantrum'
On Friday, Wilson called Byrd's criticism of Republicans "a temper tantrum" and "one of the most outrageous demonstrations of arrogance I've ever seen on or off the Senate floor."
In the statement released in Helsinki, the President himself indicated that he is not ready to let the interpretation dispute drop.
"I continue to have concerns about the constitutionality of some provisions of the resolution of ratification," he declared, "particularly those dealing with interpretation, and I will communicate with the Senate on these matters in due course."
In a dispute over the 16-year-old ABM treaty, the Administration has attempted to reinterpret the terms to allow testing of Reagan's so-called "Star Wars" missile defense system. Senate Democrats have insisted that the stricter interpretation understood by the Senate at the time of ratification be honored.
2,611 Missiles Covered
The new medium-range missile pact, signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in Washington last December, requires the destruction of some 2,611 missiles with the capability of delivering about 4,000 nuclear warheads.
All ground-launched missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles--whether deployed or in storage--must be destroyed under the agreement.
Completion of Senate action before the opening of the Moscow summit gives a boost to a meeting whose importance had waned with the acknowledgment that a new accord covering long-range missiles could not be achieved before the summit.
Democrats Pushed Vote
In an unusual turnabout, Senate Democrats largely were responsible for the timely approval, overriding conservative Republicans willing for the battle to drag on in Washington while Reagan met Gorbachev in Moscow.
For the Administration, the cost of the expedited approval was the Democrats' success in getting the language they wanted on interpretation. The provision, which was also backed by 20 Republicans, states that the President may not change the Senate's interpretation of a treaty without its approval.
The battle was joined soon after the treaty was signed, and it did not end until shortly before the final vote Friday.
Sen. Arlen K. Specter (R-Pa.), who led the fight against the declaration of Senate authority in treaty interpretation, contended that the Senate's action is both unconstitutional and contradictory to international law.
2 Amendments Defeated
He offered two amendments Friday, seeking to temper the measure authored by Byrd, but was defeated by votes of 67 to 30 and 64 to 33.
The Pennsylvania senator warned that defeat of his effort to reassert presidential authority amounted to "a coup de grace and an annihilation . . . of international law on treaty interpretation."
Although Democrats insisted that the disputed interpretation language was designed to apply only to the new treaty, Wilson argued that the move was "clearly trying to set principles to govern all treaties."
Besides defeating Specter's two amendments in the final hours of debate, senators rejected an amendment by Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), requiring the President to certify to the Senate whether the Soviet Union is in compliance with the 1975 Helsinki agreement on security and cooperation in Europe.
Troop Pullout Proposed
Helms, who began his attack on the treaty with a claim that Gorbachev was not properly authorized to sign it for the Soviet Union because he is an official of the Communist Party, rather than the government, made a last half-hearted assault with a proposal that the United States withdraw its troops from Europe after ratification of the new agreement.
The latter was defeated by a voice vote moments before the final roll call.
Although the small band of opponents was buried by massive support for the agreement, the Senate's five-month examination showed the pact to have flaws that the Administration had not realized when it submitted the treaty to the Senate last January.
Final debate was delayed several days while Secretary of State George P. Shultz returned to Geneva for a follow-up meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze to resolve questions raised by the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees.
As a result, all efforts to amend the text of the treaty were defeated, although senators added amendments to the resolution of ratification correcting technical errors, directing the President to inform the Senate of initiatives toward a new strategic arms agreement and requiring the President to assert to the Soviets the U.S. concerns on human rights in that nation.
Monitoring the Removal
U.S. and Soviet inspectors will begin monitoring the removal of the banned missiles 30 days after the treaty goes into effect.
Within 90 days, all Soviet shorter-range missiles and all launchers must be removed from operational areas to their destruction sites and U.S. inspectors will have the right to visit the facilities in East Germany and Czechoslovakia.
In addition to making as many as 20 short-notice inspections at designated sites each year during the first years of the treaty, U.S. inspectors will be based at an SS-20 assembly facility at Votkinsk, near the Ural Mountains, and a Soviet team will be positioned at a Pershing facility at Magma, Utah, to ensure that no banned missiles are retained.
Besides the precedent-setting arrangements for on-site inspection, the Soviets agreed in the treaty that they will open shelters so that American reconnaissance satellites can photograph the contents of SS-25 missile facilities.
The long-range SS-25 poses special verification problems, because it is manufactured in the same facility and is outwardly very similar to the triple-warhead SS-20 banned by the new treaty.