WASHINGTON — Supporters of the proposed medium-range missile treaty Wednesday struck back at conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who is waging a tenacious campaign against Senate ratification of the pact.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) derided Helms' criticism that the treaty does not provide for the destruction of nuclear warheads, but only missile launchers, calling Helms' argument "fallacious."
Cranston also charged that if Helms' preferred system of verifying Soviet compliance with the treaty were adopted, the Soviets in turn "would have a free run inside those Duke Power Co. and Carolina Power & Light (nuclear) reactors in his state of North Carolina.
" . . . The American people aren't dumb. They're not about to believe that Ronald Reagan, our most virulently anti-Communist President, has been snookered by the Soviets," Cranston declared.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) reiterated his position on Helms' criticism, calling it a "red herring" and a "caricature."
Third Day of Hearings
The heated rhetoric came on the third day of Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on ratification of the accord, which was signed by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Dec. 8. The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty would ban all ground-launched U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,000 miles.
Undeterred by the counterattacks, Helms on Wednesday stepped up his campaign by releasing a letter he sent to Reagan this week asking that consideration of the treaty be halted until a dispute is resolved over the number of Soviet missiles to be destroyed.
In the letter, Helms implied that the Soviet Union has understated the number of SS-20 medium-range missiles it possesses. He said that a draft estimate from the Defense Intelligence Agency raises questions about the accuracy of the Soviet figure of 650 missiles.
Subject to Revision
Sources said that the DIA believes the Soviets have about 1,000 of the missiles. However, CIA estimates have been consistently lower and closer to the acknowledged Soviet figure. In his letter, Helms does not reveal the DIA estimate, which is classified.
The unpublished intelligence report is still subject to revision after review by other U.S. intelligence agencies. Helms said he fears the DIA figure may be toned down.
"Frankly, I am concerned that there may be some attempt to modify or blunt the stark nature of the data being presented," Helms wrote Reagan, urging that the treaty ratification debate be suspended until the intelligence dispute is settled.
Edward L. Rowny, the Administration's special arms control adviser, appeared before the Senate committee to endorse the treaty and answered some of Helms' complaints about the potential for Soviet cheating in his testimony.
He said that U.S. officials will witness the destruction of Soviet missiles and will carry out extensive inspections of Soviet missile production and launching facilities.
Cannot Remain Confident
"Perhaps most important of all," Rowny told the committee, "the treaty also provides for a ban on flight testing of INF missiles. Without flight tests, the Soviets cannot remain confident of the safety and reliability of any illicit missiles for more than a few years."
Former Secretaries of State Cyrus R. Vance and William P. Rogers also appeared to urge senators to ratify the treaty without adding any amendments.
Senate failure to approve the proposed pact, Rogers said, "would be devastating--devastating not only to our NATO alliance, but all over the world. And I can't think of a more serious setback to American foreign policy and to American interests throughout the world than to have this treaty fail--either fail by vote or die in the crib from being smothered because it never gets to a vote."