WASHINGTON — Two powerful Senate Democrats have warned the Reagan Administration that ratification of the new U.S.-Soviet intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty will be held up unless they get official assurance that the Administration will be bound by the testimony of all its officials who appear as witnesses supporting the pact.
The warning came to light in a letter made public Saturday from Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, advising Secretary of State George P. Shultz that there will be "inevitable delay" unless the Administration clarifies its position on three principles of treaty ratification procedure.
Shultz had already left for a Seattle speaking engagement and a private weekend in California when the letter arrived, but State Department spokesman Ben Justensen said Saturday that it had been forwarded to the secretary and is being carefully studied by the department.
Demand for Clarification
In it, Byrd and Nunn said the Armed Services Committee will hear no further testimony from Administration witnesses on the treaty until the Administration's position is clarified. They asked Shultz to appear before the panel "as soon as possible" after Congress returns from a weeklong recess that begins Monday.
Justensen said Shultz had "indicated his willingness to be available to answer all questions. We are confident the concerns of the senators can be satisfied."
The skirmish broke into public view after weeks of negotiations between Nunn and the State Department over the extent to which the INF treaty negotiating record would be made available to senators.
Last week, an accord was reached whereby the Administration would send to Capitol Hill copies of the entire negotiating record, except U.S. negotiators' internal documents that were never shared with the Soviet delegation to the talks.
On Friday, Shultz wrote to Nunn and Byrd confirming details of the arrangement and its provisions for the safekeeping of the secret materials while they are in the possession of the Senate.
His letter made no reference, however, to the three principles insisted upon by Nunn and Byrd.
In their reply, delivered to the State Department late Friday and first reported Saturday by the Washington Post, Byrd and Nunn said that the Administration's agreement to turn over the negotiating record "can only be truly effective" if the Administration also agrees to three principles. The principles declare that the testimony of all executive branch witnesses is "authoritative"; that the treaty text is "authoritative" without requiring interpretation by the Senate, and that the treaty's meaning cannot be reinterpreted without the Senate's approval.
"This agreement removes one obstacle to prompt consideration by the Senate of the INF treaty," the senators said. "We deeply regret, however, that your letter is silent with regard to the three key principles we have been discussing over the last two months concerning the relationship between the Senate and the executive branch as treaty-making partners."
Congressional sources said Saturday that members of the Senate Republican task force on the treaty had raised strenuous objections to the three principles at a meeting they held Wednesday night. The objections were voiced most sharply by Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. About a dozen members of the task force, included Sen. Pete Wilson of California, attended the meeting, the sources said.
Debate Over Interpretation
The debate is another chapter in the long-running disagreement between Nunn and the Reagan Administration over interpretation of the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, limiting missile defense systems.
With the advent of its Strategic Defense Initiative, also called "Star Wars," the Reagan Administration took the position that the negotiating record of that agreement was susceptible to a broad interpretation that would permit "Star Wars" tests to be carried out.
Consequently, the Administration has argued that the testimony during treaty ratification does not necessarily reflect the true meaning of an agreement.
Nunn has sought to use the Administration's desire for quick ratification of the new INF agreement to make the Administration disavow that position.
Although the Georgia Democrat has been the chief figure in the debate over the negotiating record and loopholes allowing differing treaty interpretations, the INF treaty is in the hands of the Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.).
More Hearings Scheduled
Both Armed Services and Foreign Relations panels have so far held two weeks of hearings. Two more are scheduled by the Foreign Relations Committee before it turns to consideration of amendments, understandings or reservations to the pact.