WASHINGTON — There is a 50-50 chance that the United States and Soviet Union will agree to sharply reduce their arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons before President Reagan's term ends 16 months from now, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Reagan's national security adviser agreed Sunday.
But this estimate, reached separately by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and White House aide Frank C. Carlucci, drew a more cautious "maybe" when Secretary of State George P. Shultz was asked about the chances of reaching a strategic arms agreement before Reagan leaves office on Jan. 20, 1989.
The three officials appeared on television interview programs Sunday, three days after U.S. and Soviet negotiators reached an agreement in principle to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear weapons and agreed to forge ahead with talks aimed at slashing in half the larger and more dangerous arsenals of strategic, long-range missiles.
"I think there's a 50-50 chance they will get an agreement, at least in principle," before Reagan's second term ends, Nunn said when asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" to assess the prospects of a strategic arms reduction treaty. He added, however, that "getting it ratified (by the Senate) during that same time frame is an entirely different question."
Carlucci, interviewed later on the same program, said "I would share Sen. Nunn's view."
"We have a chance of doing this," the White House aide added, "and I think the Soviets themselves have said there's a chance of doing it. It's going to require a lot of work, but we agreed to intensify the effort. Some progress was made."
Shultz, interviewed on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley," was asked about prospects of reaching a strategic arms agreement during Reagan's term.
"I don't know what Jimmy the Greek is quoting right now," Shultz replied, referring to the well-known Las Vegas oddsmaker. When pressed for his personal assessment, the secretary added:
"I know that the right way to go about it is to work hard on it. And that's what we're doing. And I have a sense that the Soviets are ready to work hard on it too. So, maybe we'll get there. We sure are going to try."
Shultz scoffed at critics who contend that the agreement to eliminate intermediate-range missiles will make Europe less safe.
"Europe will be more safe, definitely," he said. " . . . How can you say that we become militarily worse off when they eliminate around 2,000 warheads, we eliminate around 350? . . . It boggles my mind that anybody could think that. . . . They don't do arithmetic."
In response to other questions, Shultz said while the United States agreed to withdraw hundreds of land-based missiles from the European mainland, it still could station ships with cruise missiles in adjacent waters.
"We have no restriction from this agreement on where we put submarines or our surface ships," he said. "They're not covered by this agreement."
Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov, appearing on "Meet the Press," said the agreement on intermediate-range missiles is "just step number one."
"The second step . . . a more important step" is an agreement on "strategic offensive arms," he said.
Invitation to Gorbachev
Gerasimov, asked whether Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev would hold summit talks with Reagan in the United States this fall, noted that the U.S. side has extended such an invitation and said "because the invitation is there, I think he is going to accept it."
But the Soviet spokesman repeated Moscow's criticism of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as "Star Wars," and appeared to link chances for a strategic arms reduction treaty to an interpretation of the present ABM treaty that would prohibit deployment of such a space-based program.
"We don't like SDI," he said, "but we are ready to have this treaty cutting in half our strategic offensive forces if we stay with this ABM treaty as it is usually interpreted--for the next 10 years, at least."
Gerasimov also criticized the Pentagon's announcement last week that it plans to push research on six new technologies being studied for the SDI program, but Carlucci defended the announcement, saying there will be no slowing of SDI research.