UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. attempt to impose a quota on the number of Soviet diplomats at the United Nations violates the 1947 agreement that set up the United Nations, according to legal experts of the world organization and U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar.
The 1947 Headquarters Agreement, an international treaty that has the force of law, grants the United States as the host nation of the United Nations the right to expel diplomats who commit crimes or abuse their diplomatic privileges. But the agreement prescribes a lengthy process of appeal and arbitration that must be followed--though it has not in this case.
The controversy began Tuesday when State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb announced at a special briefing that because the Soviet delegation had failed to bring its staff below the number of 218 ordered by Washington last March, 25 Soviet diplomats would have to leave New York by Oct. 1.
Soviet Ambassador Alexander M. Belogonov then announced in a news conference Thursday that even though his government disputed the right of the United States to dictate the number of Soviet delegates to the world organization, the mission strength had been brought within the prescribed limit months ago and at the moment stood at 205--13 below the limit set by the United States. In addition, the Ukrainian and Byelorussian delegations each maintain 12 staff members here.
U.S. Shifts Rationale
The Reagan Administration, in apparent recognition that it had no authority to order the 25 expelled, Thursday shifted the rationale for the order. An unnamed Administration official claimed the 25 were all intelligence officers and that the effect their expulsion would have on operations of the KGB secret police in New York would be "like ripping their heart out."
The shift in strategy caused embarrassment and irritation at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. U.S. Ambassador Vernon A. Walters, who reportedly had not been informed in advance that Washington intended to expel the 25 Soviets, has been virtually silent on the dispute.
Walters visited Perez de Cuellar at midday Friday to discuss the visit here by President Reagan on Monday. Asked if he had discussed the problem of the Soviet diplomats with the secretary general, Walters said with asperity that he had not.
Asked who will present the U.S. evidence in order to justify deporting the Soviets as spies, Walters jerked his thumb in the direction of Washington and replied, "That's their problem."
Perez de Cuellar, seldom prone to jump into disputes between the two superpowers, has pointed out that the U.S. action was not "in accord with" the 1947 Headquarters Agreement though he carefully avoided accusing the United States of violating the pact. His spokesman carefully noted Thursday that the U.S. action was clearly "not compatible" with the treaty.
The U.N.'s Office of Legal Affairs issued an opinion Wednesday that acknowledged the United States' right, as host country, to decide whether a country's mission is "reasonable and normal." But it said this decision must be made in consultation with the other country and with the secretary general. As authority, the legal opinion cited the 1947 treaty and a provision of another treaty, drafted in 1975 but still awaiting final approval, that governs the national delegations to international organizations.
Both Belogonov and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze have called the U.S. action illegal, citing Article IV, Sections 13 and 21 of the headquarters agreement.
Section 13 says that when a member of a U.N. mission has engaged in "abuse of such (diplomatic) privileges" through "activities . . . outside his official capacity," the United States can move against him.
But in order to deport these staff members, Section 13 requires the approval of the U.S. secretary of state "after consultation with the appropriate member (state)" of the United Nations.
The section also provides that "any dispute between the United Nations and the United States" over the agreement's implementation that cannot be settled through negotiation should be referred to a three-member arbitration panel picked by the secretary general and the secretary of state.
The ouster of Soviet diplomats accused of espionage or other improper behavior has occurred in the past after formal accusations and a presentation of evidence to the mission and to the secretary general. But the attempt to deport 25, without specific charges, is unprecedented.
It is unclear what step the Soviet Mission here will take next--whether its members will abide by the U.S. order or go through the appeal process laid out in the headquarters agreement. Belogonov said Thursday that he would wait until Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze conclude their two days of talks today in Washington before deciding what to do.