In a speech to be delivered this morning in Houston, Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), a leading Senate hardliner, says that the revolution in Iran has deprived the United States of the ability to monitor Soviet compliance with a new strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT).
"The loss of the facilities in Iran [which the United States used to monitor Soviet missile tests] has done irreparable harm for years to come to our capacity to monitor Soviet strategic weapons development," jackson says.
"We now find ourselves unable to learn whether crucial developments prohibited by SALT are actually taking place," he adds. "This is the truth. And it will not be changed by wishful thinking or obscure references to 'other methods' of intelligence collection."
An authoritative administration official last night disputed Jackson's analysis, saying the monitoring facilities in Iran were a small piece of a much broader range of verification tools the United States can use to monitor a SALT pact.
The official called Jackson's assertions "premature and alarmist."
The administration will make available to the Senate information on the impact of the loss of the Iranian facilities, this official said. It will show that the SALT pact nearing completion in negotiations with the Soviets remains adequately verifiable, the official said.
This official, who asked not to be identified, spoke to a reporter after inquiries were made about Jackson's speech. Lower-level officials passed the query on to the senior official who made these comments.
Verification -- the degree to which the United States can determine how faithfully the Soviets adhere to a new SALT agreement -- is emerging as potentially the key substantive issue in Senate delivarations on a new treaty.
Indicating his inclination to oppose that treaty, Jackson says in his speech for today that accepting a SALT pact like this one, when important provisions cannot be specifically verified, constitutes "a risk that it is imprudent for the United States to accept."
Specifically, Jackson says, loss of the electronic spy stations in Iran means the United States cannot verify whether the Soviets adhere to the provision of the new agreement banning both countries from deploying more than one "new type" of intercontinental ballistic missile.
Even before Iran's revolution, Jackson said, the new SALT pact included provisions that could not be verified, including the agreed-to limits of the capability of a Soviet bomber called Backfire, and limitations on the range of unmanned, guided drones called cruise missiles.
The administration official said last night that American means to verify a SALT pact are mutually reinforcing and redundant. He dismissed the idea that the United States would ever rely so heavily for a crucial piece of national security intelligence on a single source, ie., the facilities in Iran.
In his speech Jackson says:
"I believe that the administration has an obligation to the people of this country to state candidly and forthrightly what we can and what we cannot detect of possible Soviet actions in violation of the pending treaty. Those of us in the Senate will have an opportunity behind closed doors to explore the issue fully. But for obvious reasons of security, public discussion must be confined... [exclding] many of the details that must be kept secret. It is clearly not in the national interest for administration spokesmen to hide behind secrecy while making summary claims about verification that cannot be supported by the fact."
Jackson calls on the administration "to acknowledge that a number of provisions" of the emerging pact "simply cannot be verified. The Senate and the American people can then decide whether to accept the risks that the administration us to share."
Administration officials said yesterday that they will make available full information on verification problems during the SALT debate.