Senate Votes $700 Million for Soviet Aid


The Senate, breaking a political impasse, overwhelmingly authorized President Bush on Monday to use up to $700 million from the U.S. defense budget to help reduce the Soviet nuclear arsenal and to send humanitarian aid to starving Soviet republics this winter.

In the first of two startling reversals, senators voted 86 to 8 on legislation to allow Bush to divert up to $500 million from the U.S. defense budget to help the Soviets dismantle the bulk of their tactical nuclear weapons. Hours later, senators voted by a similarly overwhelming margin of 87 to 7 to provide $200 million more for a military airlift of food, medicines and other supplies to Soviet cities facing famine this winter.

The aid package, a scaled-down version of a proposal shelved two weeks ago amid rising anti-foreign-aid sentiment on Capitol Hill, must still be approved by the House. But proponents there predicted that it will be passed and sent to Bush this week before Congress adjourns for the year.


The remarkable turnaround, which resulted in overwhelming bipartisan support for a plan that so recently seemed all but doomed, came after Democrats and Republicans declared a truce and agreed to depoliticize the controversial issue because of what they said were overriding national security considerations.

“The basic premise (of the legislation) is that the former Soviet Union, still a nuclear superpower, is coming apart at the seams,” said the plan’s chief sponsor, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). The danger that some of its smaller, tactical weapons could end up in the wrong hands is “growing as both the Soviet economy and traditional Soviet control mechanisms lose effectiveness,” Nunn warned.

The White House, which had expressed only lukewarm interest in the more expansive aid package first proposed by Nunn, supported the new version. It would give Bush authority to take up to one-sixth of 1% from the current defense budget to respond to a Soviet request for help in deactivating nearly 15,000 tactical nuclear weapons over the next few years.

“The question is, whether having won the Cold War, we are willing to join with our former adversaries to eliminate the Armageddon arsenals” it produced, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) declared.

Noting that the Soviets have offered to dismantle the bulk of their tactical nuclear weapons but lack the technical resources to do so, Nunn’s Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said: “We can either seize the opportunity for cooperative efforts in this field now or witness a quantum leap in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the next few years.”

The vote on the aid package came as the Senate, rushing to finish its work before adjournment, completed action on several pieces of Soviet-related legislation:


* By voice vote, the Senate gave final congressional approval to a bill providing most-favored-nation status to the Soviet Union and sent it to the President for his signature. Passed by the House last week, the bill normalizes trade relations with the Soviet Union, allowing its goods to be imported into the United States under the same lower tariff rate as other favored trading partners.

* By an overwhelming margin, the Senate voted 90 to 4 to ratify the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which slashes the European non-nuclear forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the former Warsaw Pact. Signed by the United States and the Soviet Union one year ago, the treaty sets new ceilings that will oblige each group of countries to destroy thousands of tanks, artillery pieces, combat aircraft and other conventional weaponry deployed in the region that stretches between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains.

* By another voice vote, the Senate also passed companion legislation to the conventional forces treaty authorizing the Pentagon to transfer the weapons the United States will give up to its NATO allies. The allies will then destroy a corresponding number of older weapons in their conventional arsenals to meet the new treaty ceilings. Proponents said the transfer represents an effective, no-cost way to modernize NATO’s conventional forces while still conforming to the treaty limitations.

The two Soviet aid votes, which the House is expected to take up today or Wednesday, were passed as amendments to that companion legislation.