The White House is exploring the possibility of resurrecting the strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II) with the Soviet Union, one of the first casualties of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and renewing the effort for Senate approval of the accord this spring.
While acutely aware of the substantial roadblocks in their way, senior White House officials are known to view the period around May and June as offering perhaps the last chance to gain Senate approval of the treaty this year, after which certain aspects of the accord would have to be renegotiated.
Such a renewed administration effort to gain approval of the treaty, while perhaps doomed to failure because of Senate opposition, could only come about if two conditions prevail by the spring, in the view of these officials.
The first is that the American hostages in Iran are released, thereby focusing public and congressional attention on other aspects of American foreign policy.
The second, and more difficult condition, is that there is by then a general public perception that President Carter has reacted firmly to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and in so doing has contained it.
This would not necessarily require even a partial withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, but it would be greatly aided by some sign that the Soviets were loosening their grip over that country, the officials say.
Over the last several days, the president has begun to speak publicly again of his support for the SALT II treaty, once his highest legislative priority but which he temporarily withdrew from Senate consideration after the Afghanistan invasion.
Speaking to a conference of the American Legion Tuesday, Carter reiterated the importance he attaches to the treaty and said he will "consult very closely with the Congress" on when the Senate should resume consideration of the accord.
However, the White House exploration of a resurrection of the treaty was described yesterday as internal, and it is not known whether such a possibility has been discussed with Senate leaders.
One practical problem facing the administration is the timetables embodied in the treaty. It was drafted on the assumption that the Soviets would have all of 1980 and 1981 to dismantle 250 old rockets they would have to give up under the agreement. But if approval of the treaty is pushed over into next year, that timetable would have to be renegotiated, possibly throwing open the whole accord to reconsideration.