The Belgian government, making its strongest commitment yet to the deployment of cruise missiles, indicated today that the installation of the U.S.-made nuclear weapons on its soil would begin next March if U.S.-Soviet arms talks were not revived.
The government has previously backed NATO's 1979 decision to install 572 cruise and Pershing II missiles in five Western European countries including Belgium, but has refused to announce publicly when the deployment of its allocation of 48 cruise missiles would begin.
The Belgian announcement left The Netherlands as the only one of the five nations that has not set a date for or begun deployment.
NATO's two-track deployment plan calls for installation of the missiles if no agreement is reached between the Soviet Union and the United States to limit medium-range missiles in Europe.
Although the Soviets walked out of the talks late last year when NATO began deployments in Britain and West Germany and said they would not return until the weapons were removed, the government of Belgian Prime Minister Wilfrid Martens has maintained that it was waiting to see if the arms talks could be revived and an agreement reached.
Belgian Defense Minister Freddy Vreven, answering questions in Parliament today, said the first cruise missiles would arrive at the Florennes air base, 40 miles south of Brussels, in March 1985 if the government gives its final approval to the deployment.
"All 48 cruises will be installed by the end of 1987," Vreven said.
U.S. military personnel began arriving at the Florennes base in March of this year and will number 400 by the beginning of 1985, Vreven said.
Belgian officials said they did not expect a change in their government's position on deployment since the Soviets have shown no signs of returning to the stalled Geneva arms talks.