ORLANDO, Fla. — Wasting no time in making the proposed nuclear arms treaty a major bone of contention among Republicans running for President, the three most conservative candidates and the one with the most military experience expressed strong reservations here over the weekend about the tentative agreement announced Friday by the United States and the Soviet Union.
"I regret more deeply than I can express that the . . . agreement is seriously flawed," said Alexander M. Haig Jr., a former commander of NATO forces and President Reagan's first secretary of state. "Far from improving world peace and our national interest, it imperils both."
Appearing here at a convention of about 3,000 members of the National Federation of Republican Women, Haig was stating views that, in general, reflected the qualms of New York Rep. Jack Kemp, former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.
"It (the proposed agreement) would decouple the United States from our European allies and make them vulnerable to conventional weapons," said Robertson, who accused Secretary of State George P. Shultz of trying to rush the treaty through with "indecent haste."
Kemp and Du Pont said they could not support the agreement unless it contained foolproof means of verifying Soviet compliance.
The three candidates on the Republican right began distancing themselves from the Administration on foreign policy last summer, when Kemp sharply criticized the President's willingness to enter into a peace plan with the Nicaraguan government that did not insist on a cessation of Soviet support.
As underdogs, at least for now, the three candidates are looking for a way to galvanize the conservative forces that brought Reagan to power. But by attacking his arms control plan, they run the risk of alienating people who want to see the President succeed.
Both Vice President George Bush and Kansas Sen. Bob Dole made appearances at the convention and spoke optimistically about the pending arms reduction agreement.
"It looks like we are going to have an arms control agreement with the Soviets," Bush said, "one that for the first time in the nuclear age will reduce--not limit--the number of nuclear weapons."
Under the agreement, Bush said: "The Soviets will take out four warheads for every one American."
Of all the candidates, Dole perhaps did the most artful job of raising a caution flag about the arms control agreement without damning either it or criticizing the President.
"I happen to think it is a step in the right direction," Dole said of the proposed agreement. "I'm like anyone else. I think a certain amount of healthy skepticism is good. The bottom line of any arms control agreement with the Soviet Union is that we can verify it. I've got to say that if I know Ronald Reagan as well as you do, he's not going to send a treaty to the United States Senate for ratification that he believes is somehow flawed. It's not going to happen.
"But if there is any doubt about verification, about Russian compliance, then I could see a long and difficult debate in the Senate."