WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) warned the Reagan Administration on Wednesday to proceed cautiously and not be stampeded into a treaty on long-range nuclear missiles by a groundswell of good will in this country toward the Soviet Union.
Byrd, disagreeing with President Reagan's assertion that Soviet leaders no longer favor world domination, suggested that General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev's goal may be to weaken U.S. influence and military power in Europe.
'A Very Tough Cookie'
He described the Soviet leader as "a very tough cookie" and said that the United States should examine his motives and not be "put to sleep by . . . his charismatic personality and our desire to reduce the number of nuclear weapons."
At their summit meeting in Washington last week, Reagan and Gorbachev signed a historic treaty banning ground-launched intermediate-range nuclear missiles and expressed guarded optimism that they could agree on a strategic arms treaty reducing long-range missile arsenals by 50% in time to sign it at another summit conference in Moscow next spring or summer.
"I think that's awfully fast," Byrd said during a breakfast interview with Times Washington Bureau reporters and editors. "I'm not against a START agreement (as the strategic arms reduction talks are known) per se, but I think we have to be guided by something other than just our aesthetic and humanitarian impulses. . . ."
Byrd's remarks reflect a decision on the part of moderate and conservative Senate Democrats to use the treaty ratification process to demonstrate to the American voters that they can be as tough as Reagan on defense issues, if not tougher. Nevertheless, Byrd has been strongly criticized by liberals in his party for being too cautious and thus jeopardizing the prospects for a long-range missile treaty next year.
Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) agreed with Byrd that the United States should not be pressured by deadlines into agreeing on a START treaty but said it would be "helpful" if Reagan and Gorbachev agree on the treaty even if the ratification process cannot begin until 1989 after Reagan leaves office.
"That would put a bipartisan seal on the treaty," said Cranston, long an advocate of arms reductions.
In discussing another politically explosive issue, aid to the Contras, Byrd said he has written to Secretary of State George P. Shultz urging "that there be a dialogue between the two countries, Nicaragua and the United States--bilateral discussions." He said that he sent the letter "some time ago" but that Shultz has not yet replied.
Subjects for Airing
Byrd, noting that the "Administration may press for military funding" by February, said: "I think we ought to know what (Nicaraguan President Daniel) Ortega really will do. I think we ought to sit down and say, 'What are your intentions? . . . Will you eliminate these (Soviet) influences? Will you eliminate the advisers, the equipment?' "
When the Senate begins ratification hearings on the treaty signed this month, Byrd said, questions about the strategic arms reduction agreement and the Soviets' overwhelming superiority in non-nuclear forces in Europe as well as such divisive issues as human rights and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan will be thoroughly aired.
During their meeting here, Reagan and Gorbachev hailed the signing of the intermediate-range missile treaty as a substantial step forward in arms control and reported progress on START negotiations as well. But they apparently found little common ground on Afghanistan and human rights, which remain potential sticking points in the ratification process and any future treaty negotiations.
Senate floor debate on the treaty is expected to begin by the end of February, and Byrd has predicted a final vote by mid-April. He said that he does not expect a prolonged debate, adding that "it will last long enough that we might properly air the injustices of Afghanistan."
Picture to Remember
"And I think we should remind ourselves of the picture on televison that we saw in all this euphoria (over the Reagan-Gorbachev summit) that lifted us into the stratosphere--the picture of those Afghan children who had been maimed by 'Russian toys' dropped from planes," he said. " . . . It was a picture that will be forever etched on my memory."
Byrd and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) have declined to say whether they will vote to ratify the treaty, but Byrd said he has "no doubt" that in the end both will support it.
Byrd said chances are good that the Senate will ratify the treaty with no "killer" amendments that would require the pact to be renegotiated. The treaty needs a two-thirds vote of 67 for ratification. Byrd estimated that 15 to 20 senators are opposed to it.
Cranston, however, said he is "not yet certain" that the treaty will be ratified.
Byrd, who met Gorbachev in 1985, when he led a delegation of eight senators to Moscow, is especially leery of the dynamic Soviet leader and his intentions toward the United States.
Calling him "aggressive . . . arrogant, overbearing, highly self-confident," Byrd said that Gorbachev has a strong sense of public relations and how to use it in the United States. "Where is Gorbachev trying to take us?" the senator asked. "Is it his design to reduce the military power and the influence of the United States in Europe? What does he have in mind here?"