SANTA BARBARA — The verification provisions of the proposed medium-range nuclear missile treaty are not "100% perfect" because it is always possible for Soviet cheating to take place, a senior Reagan Administration official said Friday.
But the ability of both sides to monitor compliance with the treaty is unprecedented, the official said, adding that most Soviet violations could be detected and would not pose a major military threat to the United States or its allies.
During a briefing session for reporters here, where the President is spending his Thanksgiving vacation, Administration officials also disclosed new information about the sites where U.S. and Soviet inspection teams would be able to verify treaty compliance in each other's countries and the procedures they will use.
The INF treaty--the initials stand for Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces--would ban all ground-launched nuclear missiles with a range of between 300 and 3,000 miles. The pact will be signed at the summit meeting to be held in two weeks between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev at the White House.
Stress on Verification
In recent days, Administration officials have been stressing the pact's tough verification provisions in order to build public support and to overcome the opposition of some conservative members of the Senate, which must ratify the treaty.
In Washington, Secretary of State George P. Shultz opened the Administration's campaign to sell the INF treaty on Capitol Hill in an hourlong session with one of the more skeptical legislators, Senate minority leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).
Despite a noncommittal statement by Dole following the meeting, Senate aides indicated that late changes in the treaty text--particularly those dealing with verification--may have made it more acceptable to conservatives.
Dole made the point in his statement that the treaty cannot win the necessary two-thirds vote for ratification without "solid Republican support," a difficult goal since sharpest criticism of the pact is coming from the party's right wing.
"I was pleased with the outline of verification procedures the secretary presented today," Dole's statement said. "But I want to see all the details before I am satisfied with this crucial treaty component.
"In my view, the President might well be supportive of initiatives we develop on the Hill to strengthen the treaty," he added. "And those changes wouldn't necessarily require another negotiating round with the Soviets."
A Dole aide, speaking on condition that he not be named, reported that the INF treaty occupied 40 minutes of the 55-minute session, with on-site verification the chief topic.
When Republican presidential candidates discussed the treaty at a debate in Houston last month, Dole mocked Vice President George Bush--widely perceived as the debate winner and also the only contender backing the Administration arms control effort without reservation--warning that "we shouldn't be out there cheerleading for the treaty until we know what's in it."
Following the Shultz meeting, however, the aide said:
"We may be somewhat closer to agreeing with Bush now, but the treaty itself has changed."
While Shultz's outline of the verification procedure for monitoring Soviet compliance with the missile reduction proposal "sounds good," the aide cautioned that the final text covering the issue of verification may run from 200 to 400 pages.
The Administration, which has accused the Soviets of violating previous missile pacts, agreed to the INF treaty only after winning approval for "unparalleled and unprecedented" verification provisions, a White House aide said.
Those provisions would allow the Soviets and the Americans to station inspection teams outside one designated missile production facility in each other's country for the 13-year duration of the treaty. In addition, inspection teams could make surprise visits to a second production site in each other's nation. Finally, inspection teams could make surprise visits to 128 Soviet and 30 American sites that are not production centers, but are involved in operation of the banned missile systems. The locations of the sites have not been disclosed.
"It's always possible for (Soviet) cheating to take place," the senior Administration aide said Friday. "I'm sure it's possible" for the Soviets to hide some missiles before the treaty goes into effect or secretly assemble new weapons in the next 13 years, he added.
"But if they do, they will gain no military advantage because of it," the aide said. He explained that U.S. intelligence systems already in place would detect any Soviet tests of the banned missiles, and that the new verification provisions under the treaty would allow American military teams to inspect the assembled weapons leaving selected Soviet defense plants.