President Carter, saying that in his own mind "I can see a way" to resolve remaining differences, moved on two fronts yesterday to lay the groundwork for a new strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union.
At the White House, Carter and his senior aides spent two hours in a SALT-dominated briefing for nine newly elected U.S. senators, whose votes are important in the tough ratification battle expected early next year. The meeting was described by administration aides as the first of a series which will bring the president or one of his top officials in the national security field into contact with 50 to 60 senators before the congressional session is underway.
At the State Department, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance met Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin for the second time in two days in a quickening diplomatic exchange on the SALT II pact. There were indications that Vance presented to Dobrynin new U.S. proposals for compromise solutions, based on a round of toplevel secret meetings last week at the White House.
In his public comments on SALT, at a breakfast meeting with White House correspondents, Carter described the remaining differences as "minor" compared to the distance between the two parties a year ago. Saying that he sees a way to resolve them, he added that "if the Soviets are adequately forthcoming, I would guess that any further delay would be minimal."
Carter expressed doubt that the United States and Soviets will be able to achieve final agreement before his newly announced meeting in early January with the leaders of Britain, France and West Germany, thus virtually writing off the often-expressed hopes for a completed treaty by the end of 1978. He added that the United States would probably have its proposals "in final form" by early January.
In a remark that seemed to confirm earlier hints that another SALT negotiating meeting between Vance and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko may be unnecessary, Carter said the two foreign ministers would certainly meet to prepare for a summit meeting of their principals, at which the SALT II pact would be signed. The president also said he would like to cover "a broad range" of matters with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev over a four- to five-day period if SALT pact and summit signing come to fruition.
Although the timetable hinges on success in compromising the four or five remaining issues, some U.S. officials anticipate an early January meeting between Vance and Gromyko, with a summit meeting and ceremonial signing in late January.
Under this timetable, the pact would be submitted to the Senate by February when Congress gets down to work, and probably go to the Senate floor by mid-April to early May.More than a month of intensive floor debate is anticipated before a final vote on passage.
According to sources who attended the White House session for the newly-elected senators, five Democrats and four Republicans, Carter called SALT "the most important single foreign policy question." Carter said twice that it would be "disastrous" if SALT failed, according to a participant.
Informed sources said there has been modest progress in recent weeks in resolving the few remaining issues of substance. These issues are reported to include:
The recent Soviet practice of encoding some telemetry, electronic data which report to earth on missile performance, in tests of new intercontinental weapons. The Soviets earlier transmitted such data without codes, making it easier for the United States to monitor precise capabilities of Soviet missiles. The United States is seeking -- and the Soviets so far resisting -- a ban on the coding of telemetry.
A U.S. proposal that air-launched cruise missiles that are equipped with conventional (rather than nuclear) warheads be exempt from the limitations of SALT. In order to distinguish these weapons from the nuclear armed variety, the United States proposes to manufacture them with a different shape. The Soviets have rejected this plan as not verifiable.
Disagreement on the number of independently targetable warheads that can be placed on the one new type of intercontinental missile which each side is allowed under the pact. The Soviets reportedly propose a smaller number of allowable warheads than the United States.