The administration is expected to announce Monday that it will remain in "basic compliance" with the unratified SALT II treaty, but President Reagan is likely to make "appropriate responses" to purported Soviet violations of the strategic arms control agreement, administration sources said yesterday.
An administration official said that the exact wording of the responses remains to be worked out over the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat but that Reagan had decided to continue with his basic policy of "not undercutting the SALT II treaty."
The official added that the president was "respectful" of the views of the Senate and of U.S. allies calling for treaty compliance, at least as long as there is any hope for the U.S.-Soviet arms control talks in Geneva.
At the same time, the official said, Reagan remains "frustrated" by what he regards as purposeful violations by the Soviets and torn by the conflict in his administration on the issue. That conflict surfaced again yesterday in a cable from Secretary of State George P. Shultz and a letter from Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger that set out opposing views, sources said.
Shultz, in Lisbon to attend a meeting of foreign ministers of the 16-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization, cabled Reagan to underscore allied support for at least modified compliance.
The secretary of state restated his own support for this view, which he expressed at a National Security Council chaired by the president last Monday.
Shultz was said to believe that the Soviets could score a "propaganda advantage" in Europe if Reagan repudiated the treaty.
Weinberger, however, is reported by sources to have forcefully reiterated in his letter to Reagan that the Soviets would interpret U.S. failure to respond to their "willful violations" as a sign of administration weakness. He reportedly made the same argument in the NSC meeting Monday.
All 25 Democratic members and four Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, backing Shultz's view, asked Reagan in a letter yesterday to continue his "no-undercut" policy in the interests of bipartisanship and advancing the Geneva negotiations.
President Carter withdrew the SALT II treaty from Senate consideration after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, in the face of widespread opposition. Reagan campaigned against the treaty in 1980 but said after his election that he would not undercut it as long as the Soviets observed its provisions.
Weinberger was said to have argued that the Soviets had not lived up to their part of the tacit bargain to live within the SALT II limits on strategic weapons.
The Reagan administration charged in a February report that the Soviets had violated the treaty by building two new missiles rather than one, and by excessive encoding of missile test data.
In an effort to find a compromise that would demonstrate U.S. displeasure with the Soviets but not abandon SALT II outright, Reagan has been considering a plan to drydock an older Poseidon submarine, rather than dismantle it, when the new submarine USS Alaska makes its sea trials later this year.
The Alaska is a Trident submarine armed with 24 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and will put the United States over the SALT II ceiling of 1,200 multiple-warhead ICBMs.
Technically, drydocking of the submarine would not comply with U.S-Soviet agreements on SALT II, which call for dismantling of the old submarine. But this is considered a minimal violation by Shultz and others in the administration who are trying to fight off a conservative drive to scrap compliance altogether.
"At one time the Poseidon drydocking was seen as the Pentagon's opening wedge for doing away with the SALT II limits," said one official yesterday. "Now it has become the fallback position for those who support compliance."
This was implicitly recognized by the Senate on Wednesday when it attached to a Defense Department authorization bill language urging modified compliance with SALT II. The resolution allowed "proportional responses" to Soviet violations.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said yesterday that the administration welcomed the "flexibility" provided by the Senate approach.
National security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane consulted closely with Senate leaders during their working out of the new language, officials said. McFarlane is responsible for writing the report that Reagan will announce on Monday.
Sources said that McFarlane, who has often sided with Shultz, refrained from expressing his views at the National Security Council meeting. But he will present a synthesis of administration, Senate and allied views this weekend to Reagan, who will be in Camp David, where he will confer with McFarlane by telephone.