Reagan administration policymakers are working on a series of specific proposals to be presented to the Soviet Union on ways to verify compliance with future arms control agreements, administration officials said yesterday.
The interagency discussions were stimulated by a general accord between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at their November summit that "effective measures of verification" will be agreed on during Geneva negotiations on nuclear and space arms.
The U.S. aim, officials said, is to produce a full array of proposals in this area for presentation in the next round of talks, scheduled to begin next week and continue into March. Until now, the administration has made proposals only for arms reduction, and has not advanced concrete suggestions for verifying compliance with a future agreement -- if there is one.
Verification of compliance with arms control agreements has long been a contentious issue. The administration is currently debating how to respond to alleged Soviet violations of the SALT II arms control treaty, which the superpowers never ratified but have pledged not to undercut.
The administration's working group on arms control policy (SAC-G) is scheduled to meet this week to begin discussing Defense Department suggestions for responses to Soviet violations of SALT II and other arms control agreements.
Whether the new verification proposals now being discussed are put on the bargaining table will depend on the judgment of U.S. negotiators in Geneva as well as Washington's progress in dealing with what officials called "very difficult" issues. In the past, there has been a deadlock among departments and agencies on such matters as counting mobile missiles and determining in verifiable fashion the acceptable range of intermediate-range missiles and aircraft.
U.S. arms negotiators will go back to the bargaining table next Thursday instructed to pursue their proposals on strategic offensive arms and intermediate-range arms made shortly before the Reagan-Gorbachev summit. The "verification packages" now under study may be among the few new elements introduced by the U.S. side in this next round of arms talks, officials said.
A senior official cautioned that it will be difficult to work out verification provisions in some areas, including intermediate-range missiles, that give "high confidence" that cheating could be detected. The essential judgment, he said, is a "political" one: how much risk of cheating is acceptable in order to obtain an agreement to reduce arms.
Last June, while deciding to continue his policy of not undercutting the unratified SALT II treaty, Reagan directed Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to prepare a report on the military significance of Soviet treaty violations and to suggest "proportionate responses."
The first part of Weinberger's "Response to Soviet Violations Policy" (RSVP) report was delivered prior to the summit; the second part, RSVP II, with the suggested responses, went to the White House late last month and has been circulated within the government for comment.
Weinberger reportedly suggested increased funding for several existing military programs including development of new warheads to counter antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses, the so-called "pen aids" (for penetration aids) research program.
Sources said he also proposed options such as deploying additional Minuteman III multiwarhead missiles and mothballing for a year two Poseidon submarines when the next Trident submarine, the USS Nevada, goes on sea trials next May.
The 24 sub-launched missiles on the Nevada would push the United States 22 missiles above the total of multiwarhead missiles allowed by SALT II. After one year, sources said, this theoretically would require U.S. dismantling of that many weapons to continue complying. Weinberger suggested mothballing Poseidons instead of dismantling them, proposing that, if Soviet violations did not halt, the two submarines be overhauled to enable them to go back into service.
Weinberger also suggested that the United States encode telemetry, or radio transmissions, from its missile tests because the Soviets do so to a large degree.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff did not take a position on the Weinberger suggestions, sources said. Earlier the chiefs urged full funding of the strategic modernization program as the best response to Soviet violations.