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Soviets at Convair Plant Are Given Red Carpet Treatment

March 18, 1990|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When George W. Roos, an executive of General Dynamics' Convair Division, learned that a 1987 nuclear arms treaty gave the Soviet Union the right to conduct spot inspections at the company's massive Plant 19 complex near Lindbergh Field, he promptly signed up for Russian language lessons.

Roos also sent several key employees to a crash course on Soviet affairs at a Washington think tank and enrolled himself in an INF treaty course at a Washington defense studies institute.

Roos then sat down and wrote a detailed plan on how the corporation could handle a visit by the 10-member Soviet verification teams and their escorts from various U.S. defense and intelligence agencies.

The inspections, which will continue through 2001, are mandated in the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev signed in 1987, according to Lt. Col. Joseph Wagovich, an official with the Department of Defense's On Site Inspection Agency.

The treaty outlawed the production and use of ground-launched cruise missiles, an intermediate-range nuclear delivery system that the United States and the Soviet Union had earlier deployed throughout Europe.

The Soviet Union uses inspections to ensure that General Dynamics has not reinstated production lines capable of building the deadly ground-launched cruise missiles. Convair still produces sea-launched cruise missiles at its Kearny Mesa facility, but both the Soviet Union and the United States agreed in 1987 to stop production of the missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The treaty gives the Soviet Union the highly unusual right to conduct snap inspections at Plant 19 and four other military weapons facilities in the western United States, as well as at 26 bases and factories in the eastern United States and Western Europe. Similarly, the treaty gives U.S. inspectors access to more than 130 sites in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Wagovich said.

Under the treaty's terms, U.S. officials are given 24 hour's notice that the Soviets want to inspect a facility.

When the Soviets fly into Moffett Field Naval Air Station in the Bay Area, American officials know that the inspectors will be headed toward one of five bases or plants in the West. But according to terms of the treaty, General Dynamics officials do not learn that their plant is to be inspected until just four hours before the inspection begins.

While the short-notice inspections are designed to prevent chicanery--U.S. inspectors give the same short notice before inspecting Soviet plants--the visits also touch off a frantic flurry of activity, because when the Soviets step off of a U.S. Air Force C-141 cargo jet at Lindbergh Field, it is Convair's responsibility to provide meals, sleeping quarters, guides and security.

About 100 Soviets, American government officials and General Dynamics employees are involved in the inspections.

The Department of Defense reimburses the company after the inspections.

Convair employees use the four-hour window to ready a small and seldom-used complex in a Plant 19 parking lot that serves as home for the Soviets and their U.S. counterparts. The complex includes a half dozen trailers that serve as sleeping and meeting facilities, lavatories and a large tent where meals are served.

A cook from General Dynamics' Kearny Mesa facility sets up a kitchen that turns out as many as four meals a day for the visitors during the inspections, which can last more than 32 hours.

The inspections, which are governed by complex guidelines attached to the treaty, determine how long the Soviets can stay in the plant, what they can look at, and when they must leave. But the treaty, negotiated at a time when the Cold War was still raging, gave little guidance as to whether General Dynamics should stick to the strict guidelines or practice some down-home diplomacy.

General Dynamics' first thought was that the inspections "could be real bad news if improperly handled," said Roos, vice president for human resources at General Dynamics' Convair Division.

"Let there be one diplomatic incident and General Dynamics and everyone else involved is in the soup. This (treaty) dates back to the time when, militarily, the Russian bear was still a very strong animal," Roos said.

Roos determined that the best way to deal with the treaty-mandated inspections was to "make it as pleasant as possible (for the Soviets), to make it a non-event," Roos said. "We decided that the best approach is to treat them like . . . distinguished guests."

To that end, General Dynamics has gone out of its way to make sure that the visitors are comfortable. Each visitor is furnished with toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, tissues, a San Diego Zoo T-shirt and four stamped post cards featuring San Diego scenes.

General Dynamics also "tries to feed them like they've never been fed before," Roos said. Past meals have included steamship round, charcoal-broiled swordfish, cookies and "all the fresh fruit you could imagine," Roos said.

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