Reagan Decides Nuclear Talks Positions

Times Staff Writer

After months of wrangling among government agencies, President Reagan has decided on four positions that would be part of negotiations by the next Administration on a new strategic arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Three of the new positions deal with measures to verify the 50% cut in offensive nuclear weapons that is the goal of the proposed treaty. The measures, while endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department, are less stringent than civilian officials at the Pentagon wanted, according to one senior official. Thus, they could become the source of conservative opposition to a treaty in the future.

The measures provide for inspection of sites suspected of hiding illegal weapons, criteria for monitoring facilities that produce missiles and a formula for setting the so-called “throw weight” of missiles--how much a missile can carry multiplied by how far it can deliver its payload.

The fourth proposal, dealing with missile defenses, would limit to 15 the number of satellites in orbit at any one time to test weapons of the Strategic Defense Initiative, or so-called “Star Wars” program.


This ceiling would be 10 to 20 times lower than the number of SDI satellites theoretically needed to operate the missile defense system. The limit is intended to meet Soviet concerns that an operating SDI network could be launched into space under the guise of a test program, a senior U.S. official said.

In addition, the United States officially has put forward an idea, previously discussed informally with the Soviets, that neither side object to sensors in space, such as infrared detectors on orbiting satellites. Although these sensors could be used in an SDI program, they now are used as part of extensive missile early warning networks that both sides depend upon to guard against surprise attack.

Complete U.S. Proposal

The new positions complete the broad U.S. arms proposal already on the table at arms control talks in Geneva. The satellite limit was laid before the Soviets on Monday, and the strategic arms measures are to be advanced later in the week.

Although some minor details are still to be filled in, the new U.S. offerings essentially complete the treaty proposal of the Reagan Administration before it leaves office. Soviet negotiators are expected to complete their own proposal before the end of the year, the senior official said.

Together they will provide the basis for the next Administration to begin negotiations with the Soviets on a treaty, which Reagan has speculated could be reached as early as next fall.

As outlined by officials, the U.S. positions on verifying the treaty would rely on two concepts--"perimeter and portal monitoring"--to keep tabs on Soviet missile production and on “suspect site inspection” to catch cheating.

The former consists of erecting a fence around facilities producing weapons controlled by the treaty and counting what comes out against the treaty’s ceiling. The latter deals with checking places where there is reason to suspect that missiles or other items limited by the treaty might be hidden.


But perimeter monitoring is logistically difficult and very expensive. A U.S. monitoring operation at the Soviet missile facility at Votkinsk, part of the medium-range missile treaty signed last year, will cost $5 million to $10 million yearly, for example. So the United States wants to keep down the number of Soviet facilities that would require such monitoring.

The new U.S. proposal in the strategic arms negotiations would require monitoring only at facilities producing larger solid-fueled rocket motors.

The formula would mean that “a handful” of plants making the motors for the small, new Soviet SS-25 mobile missile and the much larger SS-24s would be monitored, an official said. Left unmonitored would be plants producing liquid-fueled rocket motors.