As part of the plan announced last week by President Reagan to reduce to zero all intermediate-range missile systems in the European theater, the United States will also propose a freeze on all American and Soviet short-range nuclear missile systems there, according to informed sources.
The president announced that the United States would cancel deployment of 572 intermediate-range Pershing II and cruise missiles if the Soviet Union dismantled its 600 or so existing SS20s, SS4s and SS5s.
The U.S. missiles travel from 1,000 to 2,500 miles and would permit the Americans to hit the Soviet Union from West European bases. The Soviets already have the capability with their now operational SS20s, SS4s and SS5s to hit any target in Western Europe from bases in Russia.
In addition to these weapons, however, both sides also have hundreds of other nuclear missiles already based in Europe or in development that can deliver warheads over shorter ranges.
The U.S.-proposed freeze is designed to prevent circumvention of the plan by deployment of new short-range missiles to replace the longer ones covered by the zero proposal. It will be part of the package presented by the United States when negotiations begin Monday in Geneva, sources said.
Last Wednesday, when the president announced his plan, a senior administration official told reporters that the United States expected to place "collateral restraints" on shorter-range nuclear missile systems but that "it would be premature to get into our specific approach on that at this juncture."
"It would make no sense to deal exclusively with" the zero option for intermediate-range missiles, this source said in describing why such an addition to the plan was needed, "if we left the other systems unrestrained because the whole concept could be circumvented by a mere diversion of the growth pattern to these other systems."
Pentagon officials have been concerned that the Soviets are modernizing their short-range nuclear missile systems and that, by placing them closer to the West German border, they can get the same coverage of North Atlantic Treaty Organization targets that they have now with the longer-range SS20s.
One particular missile they point to is the new SS22, a replacement for the older 500-mile SS12, which Pentagon officials say may be able to travel up to 1,000 miles. By building SS22s and putting them at the western edge of Russia, these sources say, the Soviets could take down the SS20s and still have a nuclear advantage over the NATO countries.
To prevent this from happening, the United States will ask for an immediate freeze on any deployment of new SS22s along with two other short-range Soviet missiles, the 200-mile SS23s and the 65-mile SS21s.
In return, the United States will freeze its 400-mile Pershing I missiles and the 56-mile Lance missiles.
If the zero proposal is accepted by the Soviets, these sources said, the United States is prepared to set a maximum level, perhaps in the hundreds, for these shorter-range weapons with an ultimate goal of reducing them, too, to zero.
There is a built-in advantage here for the United States in that the Soviets already have more than 1,000 such missiles while the Americans have fewer than 300. The Soviet systems are dual-capable, however, in that they fire both conventional and nuclear warheads. The American Pershings have only nuclear warheads while the Lance is only now getting a conventional warhead to go with its nuclear one.
In a related development, the American Committee on East-West Accord, a group that strongly supported the SALT II treaty, sent a letter to the president saying it was "encouraged" by his disarmament speech and particularly his stated intention "to benefit from the work done over the past decade in strategic arms negotiations."
But the group said that to be successful, the negotiations should include "all land, sea and air-based weapons directed at the European area, specifically including all U.S. and Soviet submarine-launched missiles . . . aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons and French and British nuclear forces."
The American proposal, including the freeze, is directed solely at short- and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles.
Administration spokesmen have maintained that they would be willing to discuss Soviet and American aircraft and submarine-launched weapons, but not at the early stages of the negotiations.
When the first round of the European theater nuclear weapons negotiations took place in October 1980, under the Carter administration, the American position was to limit discussion to the intermediate-range missiles. The Soviets, however, proposed that the talks cover not only the other American delivery systems in Europe but also the nuclear weapons belonging to the British and French.
In recent statements to the NATO allies, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev has said that if the United States would cancel deployment of the Pershing II and cruise missiles, the British and the French would not have to cut their nuclear systems.