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Senate Approves INF Treaty, 93-5 : Landmark Accord Will Lead to 1st Offensive Arms Cut in History

May 28, 1988|RUDY ABRAMSON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Six-and-a-half years after negotiations began, the Senate approved the landmark Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union on Friday, marking history's first cutback in offensive nuclear weapons.

After systematically rejecting a last flurry of amendments, a huge bipartisan majority voted 93 to 5 to approve the treaty. It is the first nuclear arms accord between the superpowers to be approved by the Senate since the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev.

The vote came just in time for the ratification documents to be completed at the White House and rushed to Moscow, where President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev will conclude the agreement at the summit next week.

Prolonged Applause

As the final vote was announced, crowds filling the visitors' galleries above the Senate floor stood in prolonged applause.

Moments later, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the majority leader, and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the minority leader, telephoned news of the vote to Reagan in Helsinki, Finland, and were promptly invited to join the presidential party in Moscow.

In a statement released in Helsinki, Reagan said the overwhelming vote "clearly shows support for our arms control objectives."

White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. is expected to depart for Moscow today with the ratification documents, to be on hand when Reagan arrives in the Soviet capital Sunday. Plans call for the two Senate leaders to arrive in Moscow early next week.

"This is really America's treaty," Dole declared after talking with the President. "It's in the best interest of the American people."

Byrd called the treaty's approval a testament to "the steadfastness of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization)" and to bipartisan cooperation in U.S. foreign policy.

Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said that, although it eliminates only 4% of the superpowers' nuclear warheads, it "lays the foundation (to) enable us to move on . . . to other treaties that can substantially reduce the scale, cost and dangers of this arms race."

Even Optimists Surprised

The margin of approval surprised even optimistic supporters, who had expected perhaps 10 senators to oppose the final resolution of ratification.

In the end, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who led efforts to tack "killer amendments" to the treaty text, was joined only by Republican Sens. Gordon J. Humphrey of New Hampshire, Steve Symms of Idaho and Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming, and a lone conservative Democrat, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina.

Despite the resounding endorsement, some Republicans remained angry over an amendment that asserted the Senate's right to interpret treaties and over a late-night clash with Byrd on Thursday. The Senate majority leader accused some Republican senators of bogging down ratification with "Mickey Mouse amendments" and implied that he would block a vote if they persisted with proposals that threatened the interpretation provision he sponsored.

The fight arose over an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), that would have declared that the United States would be bound by no treaty interpretation that did not equally apply to the Soviet Union.

'A Temper Tantrum'

On Friday, Wilson called Byrd's criticism of Republicans "a temper tantrum" and "one of the most outrageous demonstrations of arrogance I've ever seen on or off the Senate floor."

In the statement released in Helsinki, the President himself indicated that he is not ready to let the interpretation dispute drop.

"I continue to have concerns about the constitutionality of some provisions of the resolution of ratification," he declared, "particularly those dealing with interpretation, and I will communicate with the Senate on these matters in due course."

In a dispute over the 16-year-old ABM treaty, the Administration has attempted to reinterpret the terms to allow testing of Reagan's so-called "Star Wars" missile defense system. Senate Democrats have insisted that the stricter interpretation understood by the Senate at the time of ratification be honored.

2,611 Missiles Covered

The new medium-range missile pact, signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in Washington last December, requires the destruction of some 2,611 missiles with the capability of delivering about 4,000 nuclear warheads.

All ground-launched missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles--whether deployed or in storage--must be destroyed under the agreement.

Completion of Senate action before the opening of the Moscow summit gives a boost to a meeting whose importance had waned with the acknowledgment that a new accord covering long-range missiles could not be achieved before the summit.

Democrats Pushed Vote

In an unusual turnabout, Senate Democrats largely were responsible for the timely approval, overriding conservative Republicans willing for the battle to drag on in Washington while Reagan met Gorbachev in Moscow.

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