WASHINGTON — President Reagan has ordered the deployment Friday of the 131st B-52 bomber equipped with cruise missiles, a move that will break the 1979 strategic arms agreement that limits multi-warhead weapons systems, Pentagon and other U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The President made his decision after a policy review meeting Tuesday with his top national security advisers, including Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Pentagon officials said.
While placing the bomber in service, Reagan decided not to make compensating reductions in other weapons to stay within the SALT II limit of 1,320 multi-warhead units, although the Administration recently had considered such reductions.
Although the Administration provided no explanation for the move, a senior government official speculated that the impasse in U.S.-Soviet arms control negotiations since last month's Iceland summit was a factor.
Another possible reason, he indicated, was the White House's determination "not to appear weak" at a time when its foreign policy is perceived as being in disarray in the wake of the Iran arms scandal.
Confirmation of the impending violation of the 1979 accord--the second strategic arms limitation treaty, or SALT II, which has never been ratified by the U.S. Senate--brought a mixed reaction of praise and criticism from members of Congress, which in October passed a non-binding resolution urging Reagan to remain within the limits.
But Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the action "overdue."
"Given Soviet cheating on SALT II, it is right on target," he said.
"This is a mistake in judgment every bit as serious in the long term as shipping missiles to Khomeini," said Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), an arms control advocate, referring to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran. "It is an historic error, the second worst of his presidency."
Reagan's decision implements a May, 1986, directive to exceed the limit, despite more recent consideration of taking steps to make other reductions.
Recently, officials had said that deployment of the ceiling-breaking bomber would be delayed until late next month or perhaps until after the first of the year. A tentative decision had been made to dismantle, rather than overhaul, at least one Poseidon submarine, thereby keeping the United States under the SALT II limit.
But, with Reagan's decision, that delay has been dropped. The bomber is to be flown Friday from a conversion factory to Carswell Air Force Base, Tex., to join an operational unit there.
A U.S. official said that deploying the bomber creates only a "technical violation."
Submarine Missiles Unloaded
A Poseidon submarine, the Alexander Hamilton, removed its 16 multi-warheaded missiles earlier this month and is now en route to a shipyard in Puget Sound for rehabilitation, according to a U.S. Navy spokesman. A second Poseidon scheduled for dry-dock overhaul Nov. 30 also probably has been unloaded, the spokesman said.
The missiles from these submarines will be in warehouse storage and cannot be fired until the submarines are returned to service in two years. But under the formal "counting rules" of the 1979 treaty, the removal of these missiles from operational readiness does not reduce the U.S. arsenal because the submarines have not been decommissioned and cut apart.
In announcing his directive last May, the President complained that the Soviets had not been bargaining seriously about arms control and had continued their military buildup. U.S. officials also have accused the Soviets of cheating on the 1979 agreement by deploying new radar units and building two new types of missiles, among other things. The Soviets have insisted that those measures did not constitute violations.