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U.S., Soviets Push for Pact on Strategic Arms

February 23, 1988|ROBERT C. TOTH | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — At the end of a two-day meeting, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed Monday to work out within the month ahead the verification provisions of an accord on reducing strategic weapons.

The move signaled the start of a crash effort to complete such an accord, which Soviet officials called the pivot of superpower relations, in time for it to be signed at a summit meeting here in May or June.

Secretary of State George P. Shultz characterized his 20 hours of talks with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze as "generally positive across the board."

No Progress on Mideast

Both sides hinted at modest progress on the questions of Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf but provided no details. Neither said there had been any narrowing of differences on the Middle East, although Shevardnadze spoke warmly of Shultz's planned peace trip to the region beginning Thursday.

On regional issues in general, Shevardnadze told a press conference that the superpowers have "more differences than convergences." But he added that "never were discussions so protracted and substantive" as during the meeting with Shultz, and this, he said, "may provide the future basis for joint and parallel actions in regional conflicts."

Shultz said, at a separate news conference, that the two sides achieved "important and timely" progress on human rights issues.

The Soviets, he said, have promised to interpret more flexibly some regulations on Jewish emigration, and joint American-Soviet groups of experts will be set up to discuss particular issues, such as Soviet use of psychiatry against dissidents.

Senior U.S. officials said later that no breakthroughs were achieved, but none had been predicted. Still, these officials expressed considerable satisfaction with the results of the meeting. They noted in particular the decision to attack intensively the arms verification issue.

"Verification is the name of the game now," one official said.

Optimism on Strategic Arms

This move, another said, makes chances of achieving an agreement to halve strategic nuclear arms "more probable than I thought would be the case before this meeting."

He explained that the key remaining problems connected with a new strategic arms agreement--problems on sea- and air-launched cruise missiles and on mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles--involve disputes over verifying limits for these weapons. Instead of approaching these problems separately as ceilings are negotiated, they will now be considered within a general verification framework.

To create such a framework, the two sides in their joint statement ending the talks here "directed their negotiators to develop" three documents by the time Shultz and Shevardnadze meet again March 22-23 in Washington.

One document will deal with inspection and another with provisions for converting or eliminating the excessive weapons, and the third will provide for the exchange of a variety of information, such as base locations, on the strategic weapons covered by the treaty. The precise quantity and nature of the information has not been specified.

The medium-range missile treaty signed in Washington in December includes protocols of this sort, but they were negotiated at the last minute. The two sides want to avoid leaving such a vital matter until the end this time, because of the risk of error and because of the congressional spotlight that will be turned on the verification matter in the ratification hearings.

Anti-Missile Defenses

The two sides also agreed to reaffirm the language of the statement issued after the December meeting dealing with the issue of anti-missile defenses, which continues to be a contentious issue. In the statement, they submerged their differences in order to allow negotiations on offensive arms to go ahead. But in subsequent discussions both sides reiterated their pre-summit positions.

A senior U.S. official said the two sides have now halted the erosion of the December compromise and by doing so have created "more favorable" prospects for eventually solving the problem.

The Soviets hinted that they may be willing to ease verification difficulties with mobile missiles by keeping such weapons within limits, such as a garrison, in order to make it easier to count them. The United States is considering such a plan for MX missiles on railroad trains.

Shultz and Shevardnadze also directed their negotiators to prepare by next month a protocol on verification of underground tests. If this is done, the Reagan Administration will then be committed to seeking ratification of two treaties on limiting underground tests, treaties that were signed more than a decade ago but not submitted for final approval pending the development of improved means of verification.

No Details on Regional Issues

On regional issues, Shultz said the discussions had been "generally worthwhile," but he declined to provide details for fear, he said, of making negotiations more difficult.

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