WASHINGTON — In one of several modifications to U.S. proposals for a treaty reducing long-range nuclear weapons, President Bush announced Monday that the United States will propose speeding up discussions on verification measures to police compliance with any new accord.
Bush held out the possibility of putting some of the verification measures into effect even before U.S. and Soviet negotiators reach agreement at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva.
The President plans to outline this and other relatively minor changes in the U.S. bargaining position to congressional leaders today, a senior Administration official said. U.S. negotiators then will lay out Bush's new proposals Wednesday at the first formal negotiating session in Geneva since Bush took office in January.
New Round Under Way
A new round of talks opened Monday with an 80-minute procedural meeting, after which Richard R. Burt, who succeeded Max M. Kampelman as chief U.S. negotiator, said he had described Bush's "overall approach to arms control, emphasizing the President's commitment to reducing the risk of nuclear war."
Burt, former U.S. ambassador to West Germany, added that both sides have agreed to "maintain the confidentiality of the negotiations" by not publicizing details and their give-and-take.
The new Soviet negotiator, Yuri K. Nazarkin, pronounced himself "satisfied" with the first meeting. Burt described his Soviet counterpart, who replaced Deputy Foreign Minister Yuli M. Vorontsov, as a "low-key problem solver."
In Washington, several Administration officials said that tentative decisions on some of the major obstacles to a strategic arms treaty, such as whether to abandon U.S. opposition to mobile land-based missiles, also were made over the weekend by Bush and his top aides.
Congress to Be Consulted
They will be the basis for consultations with Congress members in coming days before being "fine tuned" and announced over the next week or two, they said.
"We want to see what Congress is prepared to do," said another senior official.
Bush's statement Monday suggested that the Administration is prepared to abandon its opposition to mobile land-based missiles.
Bush repeatedly stressed the goal of greater "stability" in the strategic balance. And one way to enhance stability is to permit mobile missiles, because they are relatively secure from enemy attack. There is less incentive to "use them or lose them" in time of crisis, in the jargon of nuclear strategists, than there is for fixed missiles, whose silos are more vulnerable to surprise attack.
Congress is split on which kind of mobile missile to build, the 10-warhead MX that would be moved on railroad cars, or the single-warhead Midgetman that would be carried on truck-like vehicles. The Soviets already operate both types of weapons, but the United States has neither.
The Administration has asked Congress for funds to deploy the MX on rails while continuing to develop the Midgetman. The Administration wants authorization for one or both weapons before it changes its opposition to mobile missiles at the negotiating table, lest it remain without either weapon while the Soviets are free to deploy both.
The White House has not yet begun such consultations with Congress, however, according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.).
Aspin said that the Administration could get a commitment of full support for both the MX and the Midgetman. But he urged the Administration to craft a new strategic arms proposal "to ensure that if we don't build one kind of mobile, the Soviets couldn't either."
In its recent reviews of arms control policy, the White House has been looking for a new approach to the arms talks that would place a Bush stamp on the U.S. position and take advantage of the Soviets' apparent willingness to accept arms reductions.
Bush said in his announcement that much of the 400 pages of draft treaty already negotiated would stand. But he added that "modifications will be proposed in some cases," and he "reserved the right to introduce new initiatives aimed at further enhancing security and strategic stability."
He emphasized the importance of agreeing on procedures to verify compliance with a new treaty.
"The United States will also propose that the two sides make a special effort to agree on, and to begin implementing as soon as possible, certain verification and stability measures drawn from proposals that both sides have already advanced," the President said.
Roman Popadiuk, a White House spokesman, insisted that this does not mean that verification will have priority at the talks, and he emphasized that agreement on such measures is not a condition for completing a treaty.
The emphasis on verification stems from the Senate's suspicions that the Soviets may cheat on the recent treaty banning ground-launched, medium-range nuclear missiles. The Senate ratified the treaty last year, but only after extensive debate.