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Critics Scarce as Soviets Open INF 'Hearings'

February 10, 1988|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The Soviet Union rolled out some of its biggest guns Tuesday to endorse the medium-range nuclear missile treaty in the Kremlin's version of a parliamentary debate.

Yegor K. Ligachev, the second in command next to Mikhail S. Gorbachev, joined with Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze and Defense Minister Dmitri T. Yazov in defending the treaty against unidentified critics.

The televised "hearings" sponsored by the Supreme Soviet--the Parliament that, so far as is publicly known, has never voted down any proposal advanced by the Communist Party high command--opened the Soviet ratification process for the intermediate nuclear forces (INF) treaty with the United States.

While the outcome is not in doubt, the Gorbachev administration apparently wants to present a mirror image of the U.S. Senate's advice-and-consent process on the treaty signed by Gorbachev and President Reagan last December.

Three members of the Politburo and two non-voting members of that ruling body attended the session.

In its only unanimous decision Tuesday, the Foreign Affairs Commissions of the two chambers of the Supreme Soviet decided to name a 10-member preparatory committee to study the treaty and come back with its decision on ratification.

In the first two hours of talk, however, no dissenting voice was heard in the ceremonial meeting room in the Kremlin, where some of the Soviet Union's most celebrated officials were assembled.

"Where is your Jesse Helms?" an American reporter asked a Soviet official, referring to the North Carolina Republican and arch-critic of the INF treaty who is leading the opposition in the Senate.

"We have to create our own Jesse Helms," the official replied, indicating that open opposition to the agreement would have to be orchestrated if it were going to be expressed.

Even so, speakers said that many Soviet citizens are concerned that Moscow gave away too much to the United States in the negotiations.

Shevardnadze, for example, said the agreement to destroy 1,750 Soviet missiles against 859 U.S. missiles had drawn criticism on grounds that it would weaken Soviet defenses.

"The treaty is a political, military and technically balanced compromise," Shevardnadze said. "This is the maximum . . . that could be achieved."

The document would ban ground-launched nuclear missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles.

Ligachev, who usually is pictured as a rival to Gorbachev, played the role of loyal lieutenant.

The treaty, he said in his opening speech, is "a practical step toward restructuring international relations. . . . "

While most Soviet citizens approve of the agreement, Ligachev said, they have many questions about its impact on the nation's defense and whether the United States will abide by its provisions.

Shevardnadze, the main Soviet negotiator of the treaty, said the accord was the culmination of three years of hard bargaining.

Justifying the destruction of more Soviet than American missiles, Shevardnadze said it was the result--zero missiles on both sides--that was important.

"The final result is what counts," he said. Also, he said, the INF treaty could be the trigger for resolving other arms control measures.

Yazov, a tough-talking soldier, said the presence of American missiles within 10 minutes' flight time of Soviet targets is a real military threat.

The treaty, he noted, would eliminate that threat, adding: "We gained a lot in political and moral standing as well."

The treaty hearings were unprecedented, Ligachev said at the outset, although the official Tass news agency said it is routine for the Supreme Soviet to consider major treaties this way.

Unlike hearings held by the U.S. Congress, however, only a few questions, friendly ones, were asked of the main speakers. And when taking a vote on creation of the preparatory subcommittee, Ligachev conducted the proceedings with notable speed.

"Protiv? Nyet!" Ligachev said in asking for "no" votes and then--in the same breath--ruling that there were none.

He need not have bothered. Every member of the commission voted in favor of the suggestion, and a list of the new members, prepared in advance, was disclosed by Party Secretary Anatoly F. Dobrynin.

They will discuss the treaty with experts and propose adoption by the two commissions, Soviet officials predicted. In turn, the commissions will recommend ratification by the presidium of the Supreme Soviet. No negative votes were expected at either stage of the unique ratification process, but, Ligachev indicated, the timing may be delayed until approval is certain by the U.S. Senate as well.

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