WASHINGTON — Several influential Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee immediately attacked a recommendation Wednesday by a presidential commission that the United States resume production of chemical weapons.
The Chemical Warfare Review Commission, appointed by President Reagan earlier this year, urged Congress to begin a multibillion-dollar upgrading of the U.S. chemical weapons reserve by approving funds for new "binary" nerve gas weapons and destroying the present stockpile of nerve and mustard gases.
But four key Democrats on the Armed Services panel--Sens. Gary Hart of Colorado, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Sam Nunn of Georgia and Carl M. Levin of Michigan--charged that the officially nonpartisan commission was predisposed toward chemical weapons production.
The commission, they asserted, has no members who are on record as opposing new binary chemical weapons, in which two non-lethal chemicals combine to form a lethal nerve gas when the weapon is used.
Moreover, they said, four of its members--former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., two Republican congressmen and a former Defense Department official--have acknowledged that they strongly favor such production.
The commission's report "is not going to inspire a lot of confidence in me," Levin declared.
Kennedy told commission Chairman Walter J. Stoessel Jr. that, unlike the presidential Scowcroft Commission, which studied U.S. nuclear policy, the chemical warfare report was not "authoritative."
Stoessel defended the panel's work, which included several weeks of hearings, saying that the White House had not even appointed all the members until mid-March. A summary of the panel's report was released Wednesday.
"We did feel under time pressure," Stoessel, a career diplomat and former ambassador who retired in 1982, conceded.
The Administration's fiscal 1986 defense authorization request includes $207 million for nerve gas research and production--which, if approved, would halt a 16-year U.S. moratorium on chemical weapons production. Congress has rejected similar requests for three years, and the Senate is expected to take up this year's request as soon as next week.
Supporters of chemical weapons production argue that the nation's present stockpile is deteriorating and dangerous and that the United States needs an effective, credible deterrent to a suspected Soviet production capability. The cost of destroying the stockpile, stored at selected sites nationwide, is estimated at tens of billions of dollars.
In both the Senate and House, measures to ban U.S. chemical weapons production have been introduced with bipartisan support. Rep. John Edward Porter of Illinois, a sponsor of the House legislation and a leading Republican opponent of binary weapons, said in an interview that the armaments are too expensive and America's allies will not allow them to be deployed on their soil anyway.