The Soviet Union has probed the outer limits of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms control pact in the last five years, but every dispute has been resolved, according to a Carter administration report yesterday.
Publication of the report was hailed by Senate champions of current U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms control negotiations as evidence that recurring charges of "Soviet cheating" on the 1972 accord are "ill-founded."
But the report also coincided with an illustration that this continuing controversy will not soon disappear. A new charge appeared yesterday, and was promptly denied, that the Soviet Union is presently cheating on the limitations for intercontinental missile-firing submarines under the 1972 strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) accord. This pact technically expired last Oct. 3 but is being continued until a new one is negotiated.
In an 18-page report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Carter administration, like the Nixon and Ford administrations before it, defended the record of compliance for SALT.
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance reported to Committee Chairman John J. Sparkman (D-Ala.) on eight challengers raised by the United States against Soviet practices, and Soviet questioning of five American actions.
"In each case," the report said, "the activity in question has ceased, or additional information has allayed the concern."
Many of the instances have been individually reported during the past five years. But last December, former Nixon administration Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird charged that despite earlier disclaimers, "The evidence is incontrovertible that the Soviet Union has repeatedly, flagrantly and indeed contemptuously violated the treaties to which we have adhered."
These charges, by Laird and others, have been pitched into the current SALT negotiations, which the Soviet Union now charges are "at a stand-still" because of "the current anti-Soviet ballyhoo" in Congress and elsewhere in the United States.
Last week, in a separate report on the ongoing negotiations, which present more complex verification problems, Paul C. Warnke, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and chief U.S. SALT negotiator, defended the verifiability of current American arms control proposals. A Senate Armed Services subcommittee headed by Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) is the prime challenger in Congress on this vertification issue.
Warnke, who will testify before the Sparkman committee in closed session today, said that "although the possibility of some undetected cheating in certain areas exists . . . any cheating on a scale large enough to alter the strategic balance would be discovered in time to make an appropriate response."
Sparkman said yesterday that the new report, on actions since 1972, "should help resolve the many ill-founded charges of cheating which were undermining the search for a good SALT II agreement . . . ."
It is clear from the new report, Sparkman said, "that the dealings between the two sides have not been easy and that there have been some disturbing practices. But it is also clear that matters of concern have been resolved . . ."
Sens. John C. Culver (D-Iowa) and Gary Hart (D-Colo.), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and supporters of the SALT negotiations, similarly said the report should reinforce confidence in ability to enforce nuclear arms control.
State Department officials said in a background meeting with reporters that the Soviet Union was informed in advance that the report was being released. One U.S. official said it shows that "the Soviets certainly operate at the limits of the agreement." Neither side, however, has ever charged the other with a violation.
The magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology charged yesterday that the Soviet Union has "now at sea" 64 ballistic missile submarines, two more than permitted under the 1972 agreement. "We have no indication" that the Soviet Union is violating the accord with more than 62 submarines, an official told reporters. The difference, one source, suggested, is that under the 1972 accord, submarines are not counted as deployed until "sea trials" have begun.
In 1976, yesterday's report said, the United States questioned whether the Soviet Union was properly dismantling ground-lauched intercontinental missiles which could be replaced by ballistic missile submarines.
The Soviet Union, it was said, "agreed to the U.S. demand that no more submarines with replacement . . . launchers begin sea trials before such completion."
Earlier, in 1973-74, the United States questioned whether the Soviet Union was testing an air defense system radar improperly under the 1972 anti-ballistic missile limitation treaty. That activity also ceased after inquiries, the report said.
The United States on several occasions also questioned whether the Soviet Union was violating prohibitions on concealment of its nuclear forces, to elude observation by reconnaissance aircraft or satellite. One of these incidents was in early 1977, involving "a large net covering" a missile launcher.
Similarly, the Soviet Union questioned shelters covering American Minuteman missile silos, which the United States said were for protection during construction, not concealment.
The Soviet Union also questioned whether obsolete Atlas and Titan-1 intercontinental missiles were properly deactivated; whether an American radar station in Alaska was permitted, and if a radar system at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana was deactivated.
There have been continuing charges that the Soviet Union was illegally encoding the telemetry from its missile tests to prevent American monitoring. Administration officials said yesterday the Soviet Union "has not been considered to have done so" in violation of the 1972 accord, but this is a far more sensitive issue in the current negotiations.
The report also said that while it has been charged that Soviet development of an "anti-satellite system" (satellite killers) violated the accord, the present accord prohibits only "actual use" of such systems which has not occurred."