MOSCOW — The Soviet Union announced Friday that it is ending its eight-month moratorium on nuclear testing because of continued U.S. tests. It accused America of putting military interests ahead of mankind's desire to end "nuclear madness."
A statement from the Soviet government published by the official Tass news agency said Moscow "declares itself free from the unilateral commitment made by it to refrain from conducting any nuclear explosions." The self-imposed ban began in August and was extended twice since.
The announcement came a day after the United States exploded a nuclear device 1,300 feet underground in Rainier Mesa, 93 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The test followed one in Nevada on March 22.
The White House said Friday, after the Moscow announcement, that the United States will continue nuclear testing because national security requires it. Washington has rejected a moratorium, arguing that testing is needed as long as the West relies on a nuclear defense.
The Soviet statement said the Kremlin still was ready to start talks on a comprehensive nuclear test ban.
"The U.S.S.R. is prepared for any form of talks, any type of agreement on that score, provided things advance toward reaching agreement," it said.
The statement did not say when the Soviets would resume underground nuclear tests, which are never announced here, but noted that "the Soviet state cannot forgo its own security and that of its allies" if Washington is testing.
Nor did the statement mention the summit between Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Reagan scheduled for this year in the United States, or how it might be affected by the test ban developments.
The Soviet announcement on Friday was widely expected.
Gorbachev said on March 29 that the moratorium would go beyond March 31, but only until the United States carried out its next nuclear test blast.
The moratorium started last Aug. 6, the 40th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and was originally to expire Dec. 31.
In mid-January, as part of a comprehensive arms control statement, Gorbachev said it would run until March 31.
Soviet news media increasingly attacked the U.S. testing program before Thursday's blast, which Tass said "cast doubt" on the Reagan Administration's reliability as a partner in talks.
Friday's statement said that "once again Washington has placed the egoistic, imperial ambitions of the United States military-industrial complex above the interests of mankind" and had rejected "the alternative to nuclear madness."
"The American government's irresponsible actions are an open challenge not only to the Soviet Union but . . . to the world as a whole."
In February, Gorbachev said agreement on a nuclear test ban could help lead to swift agreement on a date for the next superpower summit.
On March 29, Gorbachev proposed meeting with Reagan in Europe to discuss a test ban, a suggestion Washington brushed aside.
Not a Substitute
Soviet officials said the proposed European meeting was not intended to substitute for the summit agreed by Gorbachev and Reagan after they met in Geneva in November.
Gorbachev said this week he wants to meet Reagan in Washington this year, but repeated that a new summit should produce "a step forward" toward disarmament.
A commentary by the No. 2 government news agency Novosti said Friday that the latest U.S. test was an "alarming signal" for U.S.-Soviet dialogue.
Commentator Alexander Malyshkin noted that the test came a day after the announcement that Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze would meet in Washington in mid-May.
White House spokesman Edward Djerejian said Friday that, in response to earlier statements by Gorbachev that Moscow would resume testing if the United States tested: "We made it abundantly clear that we require nuclear testing for our security. Accordingly, we intend to pursue the current testing program.
"I think we have to note that the Soviets have been making preparations for some time now to resume nuclear testing," Djerejian added.
He said the United States invited Soviet observers to witness U.S. tests and discuss verification procedures. Because Moscow indicated willingness to accept the principle of on-site inspection, he said, the Soviets "should be able to accept our latest proposal."