Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance said today that if the Soviet Union seeks to eliminate advanced U.S. nuclear weapons bases in Europe it will alter the entire basis of strategic arms limitation talks.
Vance speaking on the plane that brought him here from London, where he briefed British ministers on his talks in Moscow this week, confirmed that Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had raised the question of removing Europe-based U.S. nuclear weapons.
"If they should pursue that idea then it would change the whole basis of strategic arms limitation talks," he said.
"In the past, as you know, the question of forward-based systems, and the Soviet equivalent . . . has never been included. If this were to be interjected into these SALT talks it would be a total change from the past."
At Vladivostok in 1974, President Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev agreed that the question of U.S. forward-based systems, referring mainly to U.S. atomic-equipped fighter-bombers and tactical rockets in Europe, would not be a topic for negotiation in the Soviet-American strategic arms talks.
Gromyko said at a Moscow press conference yesterday that the American position, as it emerged from the talks, had completely justified the Soviet Union in raising the question of liquidating U.S. advanced bases.
Referring to the U.S. proposal to reduce the number of nuclear warheads on each side, Gromyko asked, "What has changed since Vladivostok? What dictates such a revision of the accords reached earlier? Nothing."
Then, complaining that the Soviet position was put in a destorted way to the U.S. public, he declared, according to the official Tass news agency:
"In the light of the latest American proposals, we have the right to raise the question of liquidating (U.S. strategic bases in Europe and other areas), atomic submarines, bombers, and other vehicles capable of carrying nuclear arms. This is required by our security interests."
Gromyko did not specify the bases he had in mind. The United States has a substantial nuclear weapons stockpile in Europe, with eases in West Germany, Britain and elsewhere, and a strong naval force in the Mediterranean.
Vance acknowledged today that the American-proposed reduction in heavy rockets would lessen the Soviet advantage in that area. Gromyko objected specifically to that proposal.
At the same time, Vance said, the United States sought to balance that by cutting its own arsenal of warheads, in which there was a considerable American lead.
"If you take a look at the overall package, it is balanced and fair." Vance said.
Asked if he thought Moscow was trying to test the Carter Administration, he said he did not know.
He flew here from London to brief French President Valery Giscard D'Estaing Saturday on the Moscow talks.
Several U.S. officials said they had anticipated that neither American proposal would be immediately acceptable, but they had thought there would have been some discussion if not counter-suggestions.
One U.S. proposal called for major reductions in the nuclear arsenals of both the Soviet Union and the United States while the other called for a quick and limited agreement, but excluding the sophisticated U.S. cruise missile.
Gromyko said exclusion of the cruise missile was the reason for rejecting the second proposal. He said the comprehensive proposal was not, as claimed, a "broad program of disarmament."