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Accord Exceeds Hopes for Ford's First Summit
By Michael Getler
The agreement reached in Vladivostok yesterday to move ahead on further nuclear arms limitation accords goes well beyond what a number of senior U.S. arms experts expected from the first meeting between President Ford and Soviet party leader Leonid I. Brezhnev.
Though the details of how each nation intends to limit its nuclear forces are not yet available -- and they are crucial to a full evaluation of how a new arms pact would be received by Congress -- senior U.S. officials said yesterday the Vladivostok meeting appeared to yield several optimistic signs.
Officials note that the Russians, for the first time, appear to have accepted the principle of "equal aggregates" in the total number of land-based and submarine-based missiles and bombers allowed on each side.
Because of their larger force of missiles, the Russians have a few hundred more nuclear weapons delivery vehicles at this point than the United States; roughly 2,200 for the United States, 2,600 for the Russians.
But in the overall balance of power, this means the superpowers are relatively close, and the new effort to seek a new arms pact at next year's summit is seen as basically taking advantage of this period in the arms race when the numbers differential is not great.
Until now, bombers have not been included in any accord, and thus the U.S. lead in this area did not come into play in getting a wider agreement, which officially would balance the overall Soviet lead in missiles.
Secondly, officials say the Russians have apparently agreed to move ahead on strategic arms limitation talks now without including in the next round the so-called "forward based systems."
These are the hundreds of American fighter-bombers based on aircraft carriers and in European air fields, some of which are capable of reaching the Soviet Union with their atomic bombs. The United States has insisted that these are "tactical weapons" for defense of Europe and should be left out of SALT. The issue has been a major block to a wider accord for the past several years.
Thirdly, officials say it has always been clear that the negotiators at Geneva have needed bargaining at the summit between heads of state to break the SALT deadlock, and that the Vladivostok meeting appears to have done this.
A key detail not yet disclosed is the number of multiple-warhead missiles the two nations will settle on. These weapons are at the heart of the arms race, and if the level is very high, the new agreement may not really slow the pace of that race and may be attacked by critics in Congress.
For example, if the Russians are allowed to put a highly accurate type of MIRV multiple warhead on 1,000 missiles, critics are certain to argue that with their bigger missiles, the Soviets still will be able to go ahead with current plans to replace most of their already large missile force with new weapons.
On the other hand, the reports out of Vladivostok may indicate an important switch by the Russians which would acknowledge that MIRV forces must be split in some fashion between missiles based on land and those on submarines.
Previously, the Russians have balked at putting any restrictions on which types of missiles can carry MIRV warheads so that in theory they could deploy all of those allowed in an agreement on land-based missiles, which are generally much more accurate and threatening than those launched from submarines.
The reports out of Vladivostok that there will be an agreed-upon aggregate number of MIRV land and submarine based ICBMs on each side, however, suggest that the Russians may have agreed that the multiple warhead force should be split in some fashion, with sub-limits on both types of missiles.
Another major detail still to be disclosed is whether the Soviets have agreed to limit deployment of their very large missiles, though this could be balanced by an overall limitation on the number of individual missile warheads that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger indicated would be included.
The question intriguing the analysts here is why the Russians have apparently moved in what appears to be a conciliatory position toward the United States on the nuclear arms question.
Again, sources point out, the precise and crucial details are not yet known.
But the general feeling causing some optimism here is that the Soviets apparently wanted to take some positive step toward good relations with the new American President and help allay growing suspicions in the United States that detente with the Russians was rapidly eroding.
Also still to be disclosed is how soon the numerical gap in the number of missiles and bombers -- which now favors the Soviets -- is to be closed. This is known to be a point of dispute between Kissinger and Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger.