WASHINGTON — Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Sunday that the United States and the Soviet Union are so close to their first arms control agreement in eight years that the only remaining obstacles are "nits and gnats" that can be decided in his meeting this week with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
Shevardnadze, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington a few hours later, joined in the optimism by proclaiming the two sides "close to completing" work on a worldwide ban on intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
The comments by Shultz and Shevardnadze restored the upbeat and expectant mood surrounding the arms talks that both Washington and Moscow had sought to dampen on Friday. The cautionary comments of last week now appear to have been an attempt to avoid setting the sights too high.
Shevardnadze is scheduled to meet President Reagan on Tuesday, then begin three days of intensive talks with Shultz. The schedule includes an open day today to permit the Soviet foreign minister to overcome jet lag.
Interviewed on the CBS-TV program "Face the Nation," Shultz said he does not anticipate much trouble in dealing with a last-minute Soviet demand for destruction of the U.S.-controlled nuclear warheads for 72 obsolescent West German missiles. The Bonn government has said it will scrap the Pershing 1-A missiles as soon as the emerging U.S.-Soviet intermediate nuclear force (INF) agreement takes effect. The pact would ban missiles with ranges of between 300 and 3,000 miles.
Both Shultz and Max M. Kampelman, the chief U.S. arms negotiator, said Friday that the Soviet demand had slowed the pace of the arms talks in Geneva and raised questions about whether Moscow really wanted to reach an agreement.
Shultz Points to Semantics
But on Sunday, Shultz described the dispute as primarily a matter of semantics. He said the U.S. position was much closer to the proposal that the Soviets introduced formally in Geneva than it was to the public comments of Soviet spokesmen.
Kampelman said Friday that the United States rejected the Soviet demand for destruction of the warheads because it injected a new element in the negotiations, which had been limited to missiles. Further, he said, there is no way to verify the destruction of a nuclear device by either side.
However, Shultz said Sunday that an analysis of the official Soviet position appears to indicate that Moscow shares the U.S. view that the explosive nuclear device from the warhead should be removed but need not be destroyed. He said the Soviets are insisting only on destruction of the missile's "re-entry vehicle," which transports the nuclear device. He said that issue is negotiable.
"I think that probably, if we can work out the details of that just right, probably that will be workable," Shultz said. Asked if he thinks the issue could become a major stumbling block, he said, "I don't think so, unless they (the Soviets) are throwing something brand new, which they don't seem to (be)."
Shultz, seeking to remove a potential obstacle from the path of Senate confirmation of the proposed treaty, said the Administration will comply with the demand of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) that the Senate be given access to the entire record of the negotiations.
Entitled to Full Report
"I think the Senate is entitled to a full report on the negotiations," Shultz said. "Some things are highly classified so they are available for the senators to look at but not . . . make them public."
Asked if he was calling Nunn's bluff, Shultz said, "I don't consider it calling his bluff. I think Sen. Nunn is a person who does his homework, and he wants to see this record, and be fully informed, and we're ready to go along with that."
In his arrival statement, Shevardnadze said the Soviet side was "ready to deal with the problems facing us in a businesslike, creative manner."
In contrast to earlier U.S.-Soviet talks when Moscow chafed at the U.S. emphasis on human rights, Shevardnadze said he is prepared to discuss the issue, indicating that he will try to put Moscow's own stamp on it.
"We shall lay special emphasis on discussing humanitarian issues, all that has to do with the human dimension of world politics," he said.
The United States and the Soviet Union have agreed on a four-part agenda for the Shultz-Shevardnadze talks--arms control, human rights, regional issues and bilateral issues. This is the same agenda that the United States hopes to cover at the next summit meeting between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The United States has invited Gorbachev to visit Washington but the Soviets have not yet formally accepted.
White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr., interviewed on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," said there are "indications" that Gorbachev will soon accept the invitation, although he said there is nothing official yet.
"Shevardnadze may or may not bring some sort of response to the President's invitation," Baker said.
Shultz repeated the Administration's charge that the giant Soviet radar facility under construction near Krasnoyarsk is a violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But he rejected a suggestion that it is pointless to negotiate a new treaty with Moscow if the Soviets are unwilling to obey the existing ones.
"There are many violations of treaties, unfortunately, and so, we're trying to construct one that has verification provisions in it that will make it possible to ensure better compliance," he said.