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House Backs Ban on Anti-Satellite Tests : Urges Nuclear Moratorium, OKs Limited Nerve Gas Production

May 20, 1987|DAVID LAUTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House, acting on its version of the Pentagon's multibillion-dollar budget bill, voted Tuesday to continue a ban on testing anti-satellite weapons, to allow limited production of nerve gas and to require the Reagan Administration to accept a moratorium on nearly all nuclear tests.

In the Senate, meanwhile, the battle over arms control continued between the Administration and the chamber's Democratic majority. The Foreign Relations Committee, on a near party-line vote, adopted a measure that would require the Administration to adhere to the traditional "narrow" interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The Administration prefers a "broad" interpretation that would allow expanded testing of President Reagan's proposed "Star Wars" anti-missile defense system.

The House is expected to complete action on its $288-billion version of the defense budget today after debating several amendments on military activities in Central America. Tuesday's votes on the bill reinforced positions that the chamber has taken repeatedly in the past.

Banned Since '85

Anti-satellite weapons tests in space, for example, have been banned by Congress since December, 1985, despite the Administration's objections. Tuesday's 229-188 vote, largely along party lines, would continue the ban for a year as long as the Soviet Union does not begin testing.

The Soviets have not tested anti-satellite weapons in space since June, 1982, but did develop an anti-satellite system before that. Supporters of the testing ban, led by California Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Riverside), argue that the Soviet system is crude and largely ineffective. A resumption of testing would allow the Soviets to improve that system and open a "new and very expensive arena for the arms race," Brown said.

The House in recent months also has voted repeatedly to require the Administration to stop testing nuclear weapons. The Soviets observed an 18-month unilateral moratorium on underground nuclear tests until early this year. But the Administration, insisting that continued tests are needed to modernize the nation's strategic arsenal, refused to join the moratorium.

Democratic presidential hopeful Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri has made a campaign issue of his co-sponsorship of a testing ban. Gephardt's proposal, which passed the House, 234-187, would ban tests of weapons with a blast greater than one kiloton, as long as the Soviets once again stop their tests and allow U.S. scientists to install seismic monitoring devices on their territory.

The one partial victory for the Administration came on the 230-191 nerve gas vote, which essentially kept intact a compromise reached last year. Under that agreement, the Pentagon will begin--for the first time since 1969--to produce a limited number of new chemical weapons.

The new "binary" weapons are made of two chemicals that become lethal only when mixed and therefore are considered considerably safer than the aging "unitary" weapons now stored in Europe and at some military depots in the United States. Moderate and conservative Democrats joined with Republicans to maintain the agreement on production.

In the meantime, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on an 11-8 vote largely along party lines, approved a bill by another presidential hopeful, Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), that would not only invalidate the Administration's effort to reinterpret the ABM treaty to permit "Star Wars" testing but would also restrict the interpretation of all treaties.

Under Biden's proposal, the meaning of a treaty would be determined primarily by "what the Senate understands the treaty to mean when it gives its advice and consent."

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