WASHINGTON — The Administration's chief arms control adviser, Ambassador Paul H. Nitze, is the apparent front-runner to succeed Kenneth L. Adelman as chief of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and is backed for the job by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, according to several U.S. officials.
But reports that President Reagan has decided to offer Nitze the job could not be confirmed. A senior White House official in Santa Barbara, where the President is vacationing, said no discussion of an Adelman successor would occur until next week when Reagan returns to Washington.
Adelman announced his resignation on July 30 but said he would not leave until October or even later if the expected summit meeting between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev is scheduled for this year. The two men are expected to sign a new agreement banning intermediate nuclear missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,000 miles.
Nitze's main competitor for the appointment is said to be Ambassador Ronald F. Lehman, now the chief U.S. negotiator at the strategic, or long-range, arms reduction talks at Geneva.
Ambassador Edward L. Rowny, a retired Army general and another Administration arms adviser, is described as a dark-horse candidate for the job.
Lehman has proposed continuing in the negotiating role in addition to being ACDA chief, a two-hatted responsibility about which Shultz is not enthusiastic. However, Lehman is believed to be backed by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, for whom he worked earlier in the Administration, as well as congressional conservatives who are suspicious of Nitze.
Rowny, backed by a dozen conservative congressmen, reportedly has threatened to quit if Nitze is chosen. The Washington Times reported Thursday that Reagan had decided to name Nitze to the job, a report that a White House official said was probably inspired by Nitze's opponents.
Reports to President
Most officials were surprised that Nitze, who is 80, would take the job of running the agency, which is housed within the State Department but reports directly to the President.
The awkward arrangement has often led to disputes when the ACDA took positions different from the department's. Nitze, however, has the full confidence of Shultz, with whom he is broadly in agreement on arms issues.
While not campaigning for the job, Nitze is said to welcome the possibility of capping his long career of government service, dating back to World War II, with the ACDA post. He has been highly influential over the years, but the highest position in which he was confirmed by Congress was deputy defense secretary in the John F. Kennedy Administration.
After a brief and successful career in investment banking, Nitze has worked in the U.S. government or given advice from outside it for almost 50 years. He was chief negotiator at the strategic arms limitation talks, from 1969 until 1974, that resulted in the SALT agreement and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Nitze is usually identified as a Democrat, though arms control champions from the Jimmy Carter Administration see him as a conservative because he opposed ratification of SALT II.
He was on a short list of candidates for undersecretary of defense when Reagan was elected, but instead was named to head the U.S. negotiating team at talks on intermediate-range nuclear forces--the arms control issue that is expected to produce agreement this year. He took his current job as chief Administration adviser on arms control in 1984.