Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger was not aware of the Ford administration's decision last November to produce a new generation of neutron weapons for use by NATO forces, according to informed sources.
Kissinger, according to these sources, has said that difficult diplomatic problems would be raised by deployment to NATO countries of neutron artillery shells and missile war-heads designed to kill enemy forces primarily by radiation and thus reduce the collateral blast and thermal damage to West German towns and cities adjacent to a battlefield.
Kissinger's reported concerns were echoed yesterday by a White House aide who said U.S. briefings of NATO allies on the neutron, or enhanced radiation, weapons last year found the West Germans "not tremendously enthusiastic."
With current nuclear weapons, the general public understanding in Europe is that they would be used in East Germany or other Communist countries.
"The neutron weapon decision," one Capitol Hill aide said yesterday, "will open up something kept under the rug - we're going to fight any tactical nuclear battle on West German soil."
In last week's Senate debate, which ended with a vote for funds for the neutron weapons, supporters argued that since the weapons could be sued in allied territory, they were more credible deterrents.
Last week, when the Carter administration was pushing successfully for Senate approval of neutron weapon production money, NATO Commander en. Alexander M. Haig said the allies had given the neutron weapons "enthusiastic support."
A spokesman for the West German embassy yesterday took issue with Haig's remarks, saying, "I could not agree as far as the German side is concerned.
"Public discussion only now is picking up steam, and there is no clear-cut opiniion yet."
During West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's visit to Washington last week, he twice ducked reporters, public questions on the neutron weapons. Both times he said more study was needed before any deployment took place.
As long as the decision to produce and deploy neutron weapons was secret, there was no pressure to deal with the foreign policy implications of the weapons.
A White House spokesman emphasized yesterday that the neutron artillery shells and Lance missile war-heads had been classified secret primarily "to protect nuclear weapons design" and not hide their production from the U.S. or European public.
He noted, however, that in the past the United States has kept secret its deployment of nuclear weapons "because of their impact on the host government . . . Some have traditionally shown sensitivity to the idea of our nuclear weapons there."
Kissinger reportedly believes that sensitivity would be more severe with the neutron weapons since they are specifically planned for use on allied soil.
He reportedly has said his decision on whether the weapons should be produced would hinge on weighing the additional detterent value they create against the diplomatic problems they raise.
The interagency discussions that preceded last year's Ford administration production decision reportedly did not center on whether conventional or neutron weapons should be built to meet the threat of Soviet tank forces in Central Europe.
"The State Department was always attentive to the basic deployment problem," a White House participant in the discussions said yesterday, "but Kissinger would not have been brought into the production decision. He was aware of the concept, however."
The emphasis, both in the White House process and in U.S. briefings to the NATO Planning Group, which is concerned with nuclear weapons, was "on numbers and safety features," an aide said, with less emphasis on the radiation features.
The NATO participants, which this source said was at the defense minister level, "were enthusiastic about the numbers of weapons to be produced, not what kind of weapons they were."
"They liked modernizing," the source said, "but that doesn't mean they were crazy about enhanced radiation."
Publicity about the new neutron weapons has forced the Carter administration to conduct a special study of the "question [that] production and development of these [neutron] warheads pose," a White House aide said yesterday.
Senior policy officials from the State Department along with officials of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency will be consulted, he said, although the primary agencies involved are the Defense Department and the Energy Research and Development Administration, which builds nuclear warheads.
The National Security Council will prepare the final report for the President by Aug. 15. Carter is to make his production decision after reviewing that study.
Under current planning, a decision to deploy the weapons, even if Carter decides to go ahead, will not be discussed officially with NATO allies until next year.
Full production of the neutron artillery shells and lance warhead is not scheduled to begin until July, 1979. If an unexpected snag should develop during the deplyment discussion, production could be held up.
"We wouldn't go ahead if we couldn't sent them to Europe," an administration official said yesterday. "We certainly don't want them here."
During last week's Senate debate, several members raised objections ahead of time to any deployment policy where NATO allies would not acknowledge that they accepted U.S. built neutron weapons on their soil.