WASHINGTON — Opposition by U.S. allies and others in Europe and Asia has pushed the Reagan Administration toward significantly changing its planned counterproposal to the Kremlin on curbing intermediate-range nuclear missiles, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
These officials said the new offer, expected to be presented in Geneva on Monday, will attempt to eliminate fears that the United States seeks unequal cuts in Soviet SS-20 missiles in Europe and in Asia.
It would also permit a residual force of U.S. missiles in North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, which had complained that they would feel even more threatened by the Soviet Bloc if all such weapons were removed, the officials said.
As an interim step toward eliminating intermediate-range missiles worldwide, the Reagan Administration last month tentatively had decided to offer to negotiate total elimination of all such missiles in Europe and a 50% cut in those forces in Asia.
Three New Options
But to satisfy other nations' objections, officials said, President Reagan is expected to choose later this week among three new options. His decision will then be presented to Soviet negotiators at the talks in Geneva. The current round is scheduled to end March 4 and the talks are to resume in May.
Officials said the new options include:
--An 80% reduction globally in intermediate-range missiles, a proposal that essentially would repackage the tentative proposal by erasing its discriminatory aspects between Asia and Europe.
Under this option, each side would decide where to place its residual missiles, which would number about 85. The current Soviet SS-20 force totals 441, while the U.S. Pershing 2 and cruise missile force numbers about 140.
--A somewhat lesser reduction of at least 50%, imposed equally in Europe and Asia, to be accomplished in three steps two or three years apart. The residual force would be stationed in two or three centrally located bases, designed to enhance verification.
The Soviet bases would be in western Siberia, just outside Europe, from which the missiles could reach only a part of Western Europe and a part of Asia. Under this scheme, however, all American missiles might be restricted to the continental United States, from which they could not reach any part of the Soviet Union.
--Reversion to the complicated U.S. offer of last Nov. 1, in which the triple-warhead Soviet SS-20s in Europe would be cut to 140 and those in Asia to 85, for an approximately 50% reduction overall.
The United States, meanwhile, would retain its 140 Pershing 2 and cruise missiles in Western Europe, each with one warhead, and would reserve the right to match the Soviet deployment in Asia with missiles currently stored on the continental U.S.
Best Chance of Success
Negotiations to limit the intermediate-range nuclear force (INF) have been given the best chance of resulting in a U.S.-Soviet arms agreement following the summit meeting last November between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Before the summit, the American offer also called for a 50% cut in long-range strategic missiles and bombers. That proposal was made in response to a Soviet offer for a 50% cut in strategic weapons capable of hitting the other nation's territory, plus a ban on all space defense systems.
In a related development, officials also said the next summit, scheduled for the United States this year, appears more likely to occur in September, which Moscow prefers, than in late June or July, as the White House sought. They cautioned, however, that the summit dates have still not been firmly fixed.
At their meeting last Nov. 19-21, Reagan and Gorbachev pledged to speed up the arms negotiations and in particular called for "early progress" on strategic weapons and on "an interim INF agreement."
Gorbachev followed this Jan. 15 with a proposal to eliminate Soviet intermediate-range weapons from Europe if Britain and France would freeze their intermediate-range missiles at the present level. He did not mention cuts in Asia, however.
Britain has 64 submarine-based missiles, while France has 80 submarine-based missiles and 18 older land-based missiles. The two nations have a combined strength of about 410 warheads now, but they plan to increase the warhead arsenal to more than 1,000 within a decade.
Reagan tentatively decided to respond to the Soviet offer by accepting the goal of zero missiles in Europe but also by calling for a 50% cut in Soviet missiles targeted on Japan, China and U.S. bases in Asia.
Before doing so, however, he dispatched two senior arms control advisers two weeks ago to consult with U.S. allies and friends. Ambassador Paul H. Nitze flew to Western Europe, while Ambassador Edward L. Rowny went to Asia.