House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.) yesterday denounced the Reagan administration's new interpretation of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile treaty as "incredible" and said the panel will question Secretary of State George P. Shultz on the issue next week and hold full hearings soon.
In a statement issued through the committee, Fascell said the new interpretation "jeopardizes arms control as embodied in the ABM treaty" and "would legitimize Soviet antiballistic missile defense activities which the administration has been so critical of in recent days."
Aides to Fascell said no one consulted Congress about the new interpretation, which Fascell called "a fundamental decision" with "serious and far-reaching implications."
A senior White House official said Tuesday that it is now administration policy that an "agreed statement" attached to the 13-year-old treaty permits testing and development of ABMs using "other physical principles" such as lasers and directed-energy weapons.
Many elements of the administration's Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars," program are based on such exotic technology.
This position, first expressed by national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, reverses legal interpretations by the Reagan administration and its predecessors since the signing of the ABM treaty.
Among questions about the new interpretation that Fascell said must be examined are its effect on next month's summit meeting of President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the effect on the Geneva negotiations over the recent Soviet offer of a 50 percent cut in nuclear forces in return for limitations on strategic defense, and its impact on "assurances given by this administration to our closest allies in NATO," the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
An administration official, who asked not to be quoted by name, said the administration case is based in part on absence of a clear statement about application of the "agreed statement" on the part of Soviet representatives during the ABM treaty negotiations or thereafter.
In the absence of such a flat statement, the official asserted, ABM restrictions are "a matter for interpretation."