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Shultz Tells Senate to Consider IMF Testimony Authoritative : Alters Policy That Sparked Dispute With Democrats

February 10, 1988|Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Backing down on the Administration's constitutional dispute with Senate Democrats, Secretary of State George P. Shultz has sent a letter to Capitol Hill pledging that government officials' testimony on a new missile treaty can be considered authoritative.

In the letter which was released today, Shultz also assured lawmakers that the Administration will not seek to reinterpret the accord later, as it has sought to do with the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Shultz signed the letter to key Democratic senators who demanded that the testimony of Shultz and other top Administration officials on the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union be considered legally binding.

Policy Sparked Dispute

Fitzwater said the letter was delivered Tuesday evening and that Shultz promised that "all INF testimony of executive branch officials within their authorized scope (will be) authoritative."

Shultz's action appears to mark a reversal of Administration policy that sparked a dispute with top Senate Democrats that flared into the open last week.

At that time, Senate Democratic leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, threatened to delay action on the treaty after failing to get Shultz's assurance that testimony given by him and other Administration officials is an accurate presentation of the treaty's meaning.

ABM Stand Unresolved

Although the Administration appears to have acceded on the question of interpretation of the INF treaty, it leaves unresolved the basic Administration position on interpretation of the 1972 ABM treaty with the Soviet Union--an interpretation that helped create the current dispute over the INF pact.

In testimony last year, State Department legal adviser Abraham Sofaer had maintained that executive branch testimony on the ABM treaty was not authoritative. This view permitted the Administration to reinterpret the ABM pact broadly to permit the testing of the Strategic Defense Initiative--or "Star Wars" system--in space.

Fitzwater stressed today that the Shultz letter deals strictly with the INF treaty and not with the ABM. He added, however, that he believes the letter is "responsive and goes a long way" to meeting the concerns of Byrd and Nunn.

Conditions Considered

The two Democratic leaders are out of the country this week conferring with European officials and had no immediate response to the letter.

Some Senate Democrats have said they favor attaching to the INF treaty a "binding condition" that would state specifically that Administration testimony on the INF pact is authoritative and legally binding. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the Foreign Relations Committee's second-ranking Democrat, said Tuesday he planned to offer such a "condition."

In his letter, released today, Shultz said: "I can assure you that the Reagan Administration will in no way depart from the INF treaty as we are presenting it to the Senate."

Three Senate committees are conducting hearings this month on the INF accord, which eliminates all land-based superpower missiles with ranges from 300 to 3,400 miles. President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev signed the treaty Dec. 8 during the summit in Washington.

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