WASHINGTON — The chief U.S. arms negotiator, backed by Senate Democrats and Republicans, today denounced a theory by the top critic of the INF treaty that the pact eliminates missiles but not nuclear warheads. Several of the senators called it a "red herring" and said destroying warheads is not the purpose of the pact.
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) questioning chief arms negotiator Max Kampelman in the second day of Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the treaty, reiterated his concern that the U.S.-Soviet agreement eliminates short- and medium-range missiles but not their warheads.
Helms has denounced that as a fatal flaw in the treaty signed Dec. 8 by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, claiming that the Soviets could merely bolt the nuclear warheads from their SS-20 missiles onto other missiles.
"The missile is the carrying case, and the warhead goes boom and kills you," Helms said. "A missile doesn't kill you unless it falls and cracks your head open."
But Kampelman, supported by another witness, INF negotiator Maynard Glitman, and several committee members, told Helms that the United States favors not destroying the nuclear material inside the warheads because of safety concerns and because it is the class of missiles with which the treaty is concerned, not the warheads.
They pointed out there is no prohibition in any U.S.-Soviet arms agreements against producing new nuclear material, therefore saving old material is unimportant.
'Much Ado About Nothing'
Glitman, holding up for Helms simple diagrams of U.S. and Soviet missiles affected by the treaty, said that the pact does include provisions for rendering the warhead inoperable and that only the fissionable material inside is saved.
"It's very hard to pick up this nuclear device and throw it at somebody. It's got to be carried in a missile," he said.
"It seems to me this is a red herring," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.) "It seems to me this is much ado about nothing."
"It's how the warhead gets there that has its impact on war and NATO," Biden said.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) decried Helms' assumption that the warheads could be rebolted on other missiles.
"By in large, people don't use 1935 engines in 1988 Cadillac cars. It's conceivable but hardly practical."
Several senators called Helms' argument a "red herring." Said Sen. Daniel J. Evans (R-Wash.): "It's more than a red herring. I would call it a crimson whale."
Kampelman, in his opening statement, said it is a "repeated canard" that conditions of an INF agreement could be dangerous to the NATO alliance.
"Critics are contending that the treaty should carry some sort of political label: 'Caution, INF Treaty could be dangerous to your security,' " he said.
"I can assure you that our government's commitment to NATO's strategy of flexible response remains firm."
Senators began formal review of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement Monday with Secretary of State George P. Shultz testifying in daylong hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee and Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci appearing before the Armed Services Committee (Story, Page 6.)
Former Defense and Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger, also a former CIA director, told the Armed Services Committee today that he supports the treaty in general, that it is verifiable and that the United States extracted major concessions from the Soviets.
Because of paranoia over U.S. missile capabilities, "the Soviets were willing to pay a price for the removal of the Pershing 2--too great a price in my opinion," he said.