Congress decided yesterday to give itself a voice in extending the American-Soviet nuclear arms accord which runs on Oct. 3 - a course by which the Carter administration was advised it could avoid a bruising debate.
The assurance was provided by Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who reflected the consensus reached at a meeting yesterday of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on how to deal with the dispute over the expiring strategic arms limitation (SALT) accord.
The administration has been determined to avoid a collision with Congress over extending the accord while negotiations with the Soviet Union are under way for a new, broader nuclear arms limitation. As a result, the United States and the Soviet Union each have issued a "unilateral" declartion to respect the existing arms ceilings, but avoiding any legal "agreement."
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Arms Control Subcommittee. Insisted that the administration's action was subject to congressional authorization anyhow. Many senators disagreed, but the Senate leadership supported Jackson.
"I agree with Sen. Jackson that action by the Senate is required." Cranston said yesterday after testimony behind closed doors from Paul C. Warnke, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. An opinion from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's legal counsel, however, expressed the opposite view, agreeing with the administration.
Cranston said. "We don't want a battle over this now." While U.S. Soviet negotiations are continuing. That would fulfill the administration's objective.
What is "at stake" Cranston said, "are the responsibilities of the Congress, and the Senate in foreign relations, and the recent history of abdica- tion in this responsibility" to the executive branch of government.
Cranston said it was agreed that an attempt will be made "to work out language that is acceptable to all concerned" by Wednesday.
Jackson's chief nuclear policy aide. Perle, speaking to reporters with Cranston said "we have no problem with the substance" of an extension of the accord. "The only issue," he said, is whether the action requires congressional approval and (Jackson) believes that it does."
The congressional action now is expected to be in the form of a joint Senate House resolution.
Warne, while disagreeing that any congreesional action is required, told reporters he would not object to a resolution "provided that it is an appropriate kind of resolution to support the position that we have taken with our unilateral declaration."
"There has to be no conclusion that there is an obligation" to extend the accord. Warnke said.
The legislation at issue is the law creating the arms control agency that Warnke heads. It states that "no action shallbe taken under this or another law which will obligate the United States to disarm or to reduce or to limit the armed forces or armament of the United States," expect by treaty-making power or "affirmative legislation" by Congress.
The administration has contended that no "action" or "obligation" was involved. It said the President was using his constitutional prerogatives to declare an intent to respect the expiring arms ceilings if the Soviet Union "exercises similar restraint."
In addition, the administration said it did not want to extend the expiring agreement more than temporarily, because it contains arms ceilings that the administration wants changed.
The Senate committee was told yesterday that the Soviet Union is now approaching the arms ceilings of the five-year interim accord of 1972 that is now expiring. The United States, however, it was said, will not surpass the limitations. In this accord until January, 1979, when the first Trident submarine pats to sea.
Warnke said he is "guardedly optimistic" that a new U.S. Soviet nuclear arms pact will be negotiated. In a separate round of negotiations here yesterday, he headled the U.S. delegation in bargaining with the Soviet Union on limitation of naval forcesin the Indian Ocean.