WASHINGTON — A fight between Congress and the White House over interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty threatens to slow ratification of a proposed pact that would eliminate intermediate- and shorter-range nuclear missiles worldwide.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told President Reagan in a letter released Wednesday that he would hold up ratification of the proposed treaty unless the Reagan Administration provides detailed records of all current treaty negotiations.
U.S. and Soviet negotiators appear to be nearing agreement on a treaty calling for elimination of both nations' medium- and shorter-range nuclear weapons, both categories falling under the label "intermediate-range nuclear forces," or INF. If the treaty is signed this fall, as expected, the Senate ratification debate would begin early next year.
The controversy is an outgrowth of Congress' fight with the Administration over whether an earlier arms pact, the 1972 ABM treaty, allows development of Reagan's space-based missile defense system, known as the "Star Wars" program. Much of the arguments have centered on the Richard M. Nixon Administration's negotiating record with the Soviets on the treaty--documents that Reagan aides say Congress has no legal right to see.
Nunn, seeking to avoid a similar situation with the INF treaty, said that the Senate will not ratify it unless the detailed, six-year INF negotiating record can be reviewed. He asked that the Administration start providing negotiating memoranda, transcripts and other documents immediately to speed the ratification process.
The White House did not respond Wednesday to Nunn's letter, but it is unlikely to accede to his request, setting the stage for a lengthy ratification fight.
The dispute is more than a procedural battle between Congress and the executive branch, Nunn said in his letter to Reagan. At stake is the Senate's constitutional mandate to review and ratify treaties with foreign nations.
Unless the Administration backs away from its broad interpretation of the ABM pact, justifying "Star Wars" development, Nunn said, he will insist that the entire record of the current treaty negotiations be provided before the Senate will consider ratification.
He also told Reagan that such a review would require that the negotiating record be declassified and made public.
"I find this situation deplorable and hope that the Senate will not have to follow this course of action," Nunn wrote.
He insisted that he does not want to delay Senate ratification of a treaty removing missiles from Europe. But he said a Senate review of the six-year negotiating record "will obviously be time-consuming."
"I would much prefer that we return to a method of conducting treaty ratification proceedings wherein the Senate can confidently rely upon the representations of the executive branch officials," he said.
The Administration's broad interpretation of the 1972 ABM treaty would allow testing and deployment of pieces of the "Star Wars" program, known formally as the Strategic Defense Initiative. Congressional critics say that SDI violates provisions of the 1972 treaty that bar development of defenses against long-range missiles.
Abraham D. Sofaer, the State Department's legal adviser, testified before Congress earlier this year that the United States and the Soviet Union intended in 1972 to allow development of new space-based defensive technologies. He claimed that the negotiating record would support his view but has so far refused to provide specific evidence.