WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd said today that the Senate is likely to approve a new U.S.-Soviet accord on intermediate-range nuclear missiles in about four months, breaking a 15-year drought in U.S. ratification of arms-control agreements.
But Byrd also predicted "a thorough debate" and said the Senate should move carefully on the treaty because of its profound implications for future, more sweeping agreements on long-range nuclear weapons and conventional forces.
"I've read the treaty and I think the prospects are good for the approval of ratification," the West Virginia Democrat told reporters, saying he was "positively inclined" to support it.
"This is a small step forward. It's not the Millenium," he added. "It's what lies beyond this--what will be the ramifications on the (NATO) alliance. I would hope we would not become too euphoric over this treaty."
While the two-thirds Senate majority needed for treaty approval under the Constitution seemed a virtual certainty, questions remained about what reservations or amendments might be added on the Senate floor.
Such changes in the treaty require only a majority vote, but could potentially require renegotiation with the Soviet Union.
Conservative lawmakers signaled that they are likely to seek changes in the document, linking approval to Soviet compliance with this or previous arms control accords, or to understandings about what the U.S. side will require in future talks about conventional force balances in Europe.
"We are taking the missiles away, leaving Europe exposed to the Soviet tanks and troops," said Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), one of a small number of GOP senators to publicly declare early opposition to the treaty.
"I look upon it as a potential Trojan horse," Pressler said.
'Owes Us Some Answers'
"I don't know yet why people are supporting it when they still haven't seen it," said Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.). "The Administration owes us some answers."
Wallop said one serious deficiency is the lack of any enforcement in the treaty in case of Soviet violations.
Citing violations of previous arms accords, he suggested the addition of language to the INF treaty to automatically nullify U.S. approval if such a violation occurs.