The Senate Foreign Relations Committee met in a hastily arranged closed-door session with State Department officials late yesterday over an internal memo that questions the toughness of some U.S. arms negotiators and has created new controversy over administration arms control policy.
White House officials said yesterday the memo was prepared by aides to retired Gen. Edward Rowny, who is the chief U.S. delegate to Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) with the Soviet Union, and was meant to be used as Rowny's advice to the nominated director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Kenneth L. Adelman.
Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (D-Mass.), who attended the special committee meeting, said "it was never doubted by anybody that it was Rowny's memo," and the issue of whether it was prepared by staff aides or by Rowny personally never came up.
According to senior State Department officials, Rowny passed on the memo and the advice to Adelman at a luncheon meeting late in January.
The memo reportedly impugns the reputation of many members of the U.S. delegation to the Geneva arms talks. According to press accounts confirmed privately by State Department officials, the memo states that Rowny's second-in-command wants "progress at any price" in the talks with the Soviets, says that another deputy "has got to go" for similar reasons and even lists as "questionable" a Navy admiral who represents the military Joint Chiefs of Staff on the U.S. team. Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth W. Dam, who testified before the panel yesterday, reportedly said it was "foolish" of Rowny to have circulated such a memo. Secretary of State George P. Shultz was described by other officials as "deeply disappointed" over the incident. Senate Committee Chairman Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) called the memo "extremely unfortunate."
White House officials, asked about these characterizations, said they did not want to discuss references to individuals. They also said that "the White House fully supports" Rowny.
Rowny, who is in Europe, issued the following statement last night:
"I have been informed of stories circulating in the U.S. press concerning personnel matters in my delegation. I profoundly regret that public disclosure of informal talking points prepared for me might have a negative effect upon our important work in the Geneva START negotiations. They do not represent my views then or now. I have full confidence in the entire START delegation. We shall continue to work closely in seeking to achieve substantial reductions as proposed by the president in nuclear arsenals and to reduce the risks of nuclear war."
The episode is potentially very explosive because it could provide ammunition to critics who contend that the administration is not interested in reaching arms control agreements.
It also could add to the image of disarray that was created by the abrupt firing in January of the head of the ACDA, Eugene V. Rostow, and the surprise appointment of Adleman, whose nomination was sent to the Senate floor by the Foreign Relations Committee with an unfavorable recommendation.
The characterizations in the memo, if they are as reported, could also damage American credibility among west European allies who want an arms agreement and could be used by the Soviets as propaganda.
Top State Department and ACDA officials yesterday were clearly upset and "astonished" by the revelations, as one official put it.
The memo, Senate sources say, also could deepen the difficulties that Adelman faces in trying to win Senate confirmation. While Adelman did not act on the memo he received late in January, he was asked about possible purges of the ACDA during testimony before the Senate committee on Feb. 3 and said that he had never heard anyone talk in such terms.
The Rowny or Rowny-staff memo is said to involve assessments of some 15 to 20 officials on the delegation and at ACDA headquarters here, and reportedly suggests that at least some should be moved out.
One deputy on the negotiating team who has "got to go," according to the memo, was Jack Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn reportedly found out about the memo, told others on the list about it and had "sharp words" with Rowny. He has since resigned from the team.
It was not clear last night who among Washington's officialdom had actually seen the memo. A number of officials said that parts of it had been read to them. The State Department promised to deliver a copy to the Senate committee on Monday.
Accounts of the document began to appear Wednesday from the Hearst news service.
If top State Department officials were as surprised as they suggested, it also raises questions about what Adelman did with the memo and whether he told anyone about it.
State Department officials said it is not unusual for a chief negotiator to give a private personnel assessment to a new ACDA boss. But they added that the "overtones" of this particular report were "extremely unhelpful" and that it could be disastrous for U.S. policy and administration credibility if the memo is interpreted as an all-out effort to get rid of alleged "soft-liners" in the agency.
The only member of the team given a clean bill of health in the memo was said to be the representative of the office of Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.