WASHINGTON — Despite Pentagon objections, a majority of the Administration's arms control advisers have recommended that President Reagan accept Moscow's call for a special meeting of arms experts to discuss his decision to abandon SALT II restraints, U.S. officials said Friday.
The majority proposed that U.S. charges of Soviet violations of arms treaties also be taken up at the same meeting, but there was disagreement about whether this should be made an explicit part of the agenda in advance.
Reagan is expected to respond to the Soviet request next week. If he accepts the majority advice, U.S. and Soviet members of the Standing Consultative Commission would meet in Geneva late this month or in early August, which would be a week or two later than the Soviets had asked. The next regular meeting of the commission, a U.S.-Soviet panel set up to hear complaints and work out technical rules of compliance with arms agreements, is scheduled for mid-October.
The majority view, led by the State Department, is that the United States should accept the Soviet proposal because rejection would draw criticism here and abroad.
"Anytime you say no to talks, it's bad public relations in the West," one official said.
Pentagon Urges Denial
The Pentagon, however, urged that the Soviet request be denied, noting that an earlier U.S. request for a similar session had been rejected in 1983.
Reagan announced May 27 that the United States would no longer feel constrained by the terms of the second strategic arms limitation agreement, which was signed in 1979 but never ratified. When he took office in 1981, Reagan called the pact "fatally flawed" but agreed "not to undercut" its provisions as long as the Soviets did the same.
In explaining his decision to abandon the provisions, the President repeated charges of Soviet violations of the pact and noted that the agreement expired at the end of 1985. He said that, henceforth, the U.S. arsenal would be tailored to meet the Soviet threat rather than by the ceilings on weapons set by SALT II.
At the same time, however, Reagan ordered two older Poseidon missile-firing submarines to be dismantled, a move that kept the United States in compliance with the numerical ceilings of SALT II for the next few months. But he said the United States would go ahead with converting the 131st B-52 bomber to a cruise-missile carrier--expected in November or December--without any more dismantlings of old weapons, thereby breaching SALT II limits.
That decision was met with widespread domestic and international criticism. But Moscow, although responding with angry rhetoric, promised not to take any actions until the United States actually violated the SALT II terms--that is, broke through ceilings or ceased to follow other established SALT procedures.
However, perhaps in response to the criticism, the Administration appeared to become ambivalent about the status of SALT II in subsequent weeks. Reagan himself has refused to call the agreement "dead," for example, contrary to comments of senior Administration officials.
And, although the Administration viewed the Soviet request last month for a special meeting of the Standing Consultative Commission primarily as a propaganda ploy, it remained divided over how to respond.
In the 1983 case cited by Pentagon officials who now oppose a special meeting, the Administration had sought a special session to present charges that Soviet construction of a huge radar at Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But, rather than at a special meeting, the U.S. complaint was heard at the next regularly scheduled session of the commission which normally meets semi-annually, in the spring and fall.
The Pentagon recommended in a fallback position that, if the United States does agree now to the special meeting proposed by the Soviets, it should only accept questions about Reagan's SALT II decision but not respond.
U.S. Has "a Good Case'
The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency favors acceptance of the Soviet proposal, arguing that the United States has "a good case" to make for the decision to end compliance with SALT II, officials said.
But agency Director Kenneth L. Adelman and Ambassador Edward L. Rowny, one of Reagan's senior arms control advisers, urged that Soviet violations be made an explicit part of the agenda for the special commission meeting.
State Department officials oppose this move, noting that commission meetings do not have formal agendas and, therefore, there is no need to proclaim in advance that the United States intends to again raise the violations.