WASHINGTON — A treaty to ban intermediate-range nuclear weapons, which moved another step closer to reality Monday, would create the most comprehensive and intrusive scheme ever to monitor compliance of an arms accord.
The treaty would be the first in history to require the dismantling and destruction of nuclear weapons.
Short of exploding the nuclear warheads already in their arsenals--an approach that no one is advocating--the United States and the Soviet Union could remove radioactive material from the warheads and use it for non-military purposes.
Procedures for verifying that each side destroys its missiles are included in the proposal that President Reagan directed U.S. negotiators in Geneva to submit to their Soviet counterparts Monday.
"We are proposing the most stringent verification regime of any arms control agreement in history," the President said in a statement.
Treaty provisions already submitted by U.S. negotiators outline four stages in the on-site inspection regime:
-- An exchange of memorandums of understanding on the precise number and location of facilities for producing, assembling, storing and deploying intermediate-range missiles--those with ranges of 300 to 3,000 miles.
-- On-site inspections to confirm the information in the memorandums.
-- Continuing inspections of designated missile facilities during the course of reductions, and on-site verification of the destruction of missiles.
-- On-site inspections of facilities capable of producing ballistic missiles and suspected of producing missiles of the prohibited range.
The present U.S. count of Soviet missiles and warheads is based on satellite and other intelligence information, and the Soviets have neither confirmed nor denied it. Worldwide, the Soviets have 670 such missiles carrying 1,550 warheads, according to the U.S. count, while the United States has 348 missiles with one warhead each.
Following ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Congress and the Soviet legislature, each side would provide the other with updated numbers of intermediate-range nuclear weapons and their location. They also would identify precisely their production, assembly, storage and other associated weapons facilities.
Each side could inspect the other's facilities, although precisely how remains in dispute. The United States wants to visit every site to be sure of complete inventory control, while the Soviets want to limit the number of visits.
On-site inspections would be permitted to verify the dismantling and destruction of weapons. Inspectors, perhaps with such basic tools as Geiger counters, would verify that nuclear warheads have been removed from intermediate-range missiles. The warheads would then be dismantled in secret to prevent disclosure of their design and other features. The missiles themselves would be destroyed--perhaps by being cut in half and crushed by bulldozers--in the presence of inspectors.
Regular on-site inspections also would be provided at production, assembly and storage facilities. Both sides agree that an annual quota of such inspections must be set, but neither has yet proposed a specific number.
Dozens of sites and presumably dozens of inspections would be in order, and officials said that negotiations over setting these limits are expected to be difficult and perhaps protracted.
The Soviets have suggested that "exhibition sites" rather than actual production plants be visited by inspectors. They have not spelled out what such sites would consist of, but U.S. negotiators fear that the Kremlin has something less than true on-site inspection in mind.
Finally, the two sides must agree on an annual quota of on-site inspections of "suspect" facilities. Suspect sites would be those associated with ballistic missiles, although not necessarily with those kinds of missiles that are to be eliminated.
The emerging treaty does not deal with each superpower's massive arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and U.S. officials believe that the Soviets are most likely to cheat by producing intermediate-range missiles at factories that already turn out longer-range missiles. The Soviets may object to U.S. inspections at such plants, however.
On the other hand, the Soviets have said that they want the right to inspect U.S. bases in countries where U.S. medium-range missiles have not been deployed in the past but where the Soviet Union might suspect that such missiles could be harbored in the future.
The United States objects to that approach. If the Soviets sought to inspect U.S. bases in the Philippines or Japan, where no intermediate-range missiles have ever been stationed, officials fear, the request would generate so much political controversy there that it would greatly harm U.S. interests for years to come.