The United States sees little room for negotiation with the Soviet Union on outer space, the Soviets' highest priority, in next month's arms talks in Geneva, the administration's top arms adviser told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.
Paul H. Nitze, appearing with the three recently appointed U.S. negotiators, said "the only space activity that remains to be negotiated about" now is the narrow issue of limits on certain antisatellite weapons not covered by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, known as "Star Wars," is only a research program now and thus not subject to negotiated limitations, Nitze and the three negotiators agreed.
Under questioning from Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Nitze said eventual deployment under the "Star Wars" program "would be on the table" at Geneva in that "it is not excluded" as a topic for negotiation. But neither Nitze nor the other negotiators suggested that the administration would offer it as a "bargaining chip" in exchange for Soviet concessions in other areas.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, did not quarrel with the assessment of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that "the prospects for arms control at this time are somewhere between minimal and dismal."
Despite imposing difficulties, Shultz told Bingaman that U.S. negotiators should go to Geneva March 12 in "a constructive frame of mind." Given the advance of weapons technology, Shultz said, "this may be the last time to really address some of these issues with any prospect of success."
Former senator John G. Tower (R-Tex.), who is to be chief U.S. negotiator on strategic arms at Geneva, raised the question of verification, one of the most serious hurdles in the new negotiations.
"I do not believe that national technical means the euphemism for spy satellite photography are sufficient" to verify a future agreement, Tower said in answer to questions from the Foreign Relations Committee. "I believe some other means, including some intrusive forms, will be needed."
In a prepared statement, Tower spoke of a quest for "significant reductions" in strategic arms rather than the "radical reductions" that have been announced by Shultz, Nitze and others as the U.S. goal. He added that "we are prepared to discuss trade-offs, taking into account Soviet and U.S. advantages, in ways that provide each side with movement towards a more stable strategic balance."
Tower also said, "My instructions will come directly from the president, and it is to him that I will report."
Washington attorney Max M. Kampelman, who is to be chief U.S. negotiator on outer space and defensive arms, and career diplomat Maynard Glitman, who is to be chief U.S. negotiator on intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe, also made their first Capitol Hill appearances in their new roles. The committee plans to vote Thursday on the nominations of the negotiators, and no opposition is in sight.
Nitze, a veteran of four decades of strategic U.S. policy-making about the Soviet Union, acted as chief spokesman for the negotiators, whom he will advise from a Washington office. The other official named to advise the negotiators, Edward L. Rowny, was not present.
Nitze, in the most extensive official discussion of expectations for Geneva, said "it is likely" that the Soviets at some stage will "attempt to hold progress on intermediate-range and strategic nuclear arms hostage to our movement in the space and defense forum where they clearly want to inhibit the U.S. research program on strategic defense."
Nitze added that in this respect, the Soviets will seek to exploit divisions in the NATO alliance and the United States and to appeal to Western publics over their governments' heads.
Discussing the space talks, Nitze took the view that "most of the defense and space issues were negotiated and agreed many years ago" in the ABM treaty and other accords. "At this time there isn't that much to negotiate about," he said.
He made an exception of antisatellite systems that do not have an antiballistic missile capability and that therefore are not covered by the ABM treaty restrictions. But "this is a limited class" of weapons, including an operational Soviet system and a planned U.S. system, he said, and a total ban is "very difficult if not impossible."
"The far more important issue" for space defense, Nitze said, is Soviet compliance with the ABM treaty. Nitze and other officials have said that a large Soviet radar being built in Siberia is a clear-cut and important violation.