The Warsaw Pact today proposed a broad program for arms control in Europe, including major reductions in troop levels, that seeks to expand current East-West talks on military forces and establish direct links between cuts in nuclear and conventional arms.
The program, issued as a public appeal following a meeting of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and six other East Bloc leaders, calls for NATO and the Warsaw Pact to remove more than 500,000 troops each from European posts by the early 1990s. The East Bloc claims the cut would be equal to about 25 percent of the forces now deployed by the two alliances. The figures, however, are disputed by the western allies.
The proposal links the troop reductions with simultaneous cuts in conventional arms, warplanes and nuclear weapons and with confidence-building measures to lower concerns about a surprise attack by either side. It suggests that these steps be considered by a "special forum" involving neutral and nonaligned European countries as well as the two military blocs.
The East Bloc has not responded to a NATO proposal at the Vienna talks last December for small reductions in troops on each side followed by a three-year freeze in force levels with rigorous verification steps. The NATO proposal, in line with the parameters of the Vienna talks, covers only troops stationed in seven countries of Central Europe and calls for a larger initial reduction by the East Bloc because of its superior forces.
Soviet officials here said the East Bloc program would answer longstanding concerns in Western Europe that reducing U.S. nuclear arms there would be destabilizing because of the East's superiority in conventional military forces.
Western observers said the program appeared designed to combine Soviet arms control proposals for Europe in a comprehensive package that would appeal to western public opinion. Today's Warsaw Pact statement said the proposals "constitute a significant supplement" to Gorbachev's similarly sweeping plan for the elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2000.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said the United States is prepared "to give serious consideration to any concrete arms control proposal that would increase stability and security in Europe," The Associated Press reported. He added, however: "If the Warsaw Pact is serious about addressing these problems, we would urge that it make a positive, constructive response to the western proposals."
In Brussels, Lord Carrington, secretary general of NATO, said the Warsaw Pact proposal would be examined by a new allied task force on conventional weapons. He added: "We certainly welcome all contributions toward our objectives."
The appeal was the most important result of the two-day summit meeting here between Gorbachev and the Communist leaders of Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. A separate communique by the group restated other East Bloc positions on arms control and criticized the United States and NATO for failing to respond to past initiatives.
The communique also briefly addressed the issue of nuclear power following the recent Chernobyl disaster, endorsing Gorbachev's proposals for increased international cooperation and stressing the need for "an operative machinery of information and notification."
The East's troop-reduction proposal was described by NATO officials as unrealistic after Gorbachev first outlined it in a speech in East Berlin April 18. Western officials said the plan sidesteps concrete western proposals for troop reductions and ignores complex issues of verification that have bogged down negotiations on conventional forces for years.
The statement by the Warsaw Pact today indicated no major change in the East's position on verification procedures at the 12-year-old Mutually Balanced Force Reduction negotiations in Vienna, experts said.
However, its proposals to "widen the framework" of the Vienna talks to include arms and aircraft and its suggestion of equal reductions of troops by the two sides appeared to represent backtracking from previous positions and could doom the talks, western observers said.
The Warsaw Pact proposal includes troops stationed from "the Atlantic to the Urals," or the entire European continent. While NATO called for only 5,000 American and 11,000 Soviet troops to be withdrawn, the East's plan says 100,000 to 150,000 soldiers should be removed by each side "within a year or two," with further cuts afterward to reach the 500,000 level.
According to official U.S. estimates, NATO has 2.29 million ground personnel in Europe, while the Warsaw Pact has 2.82 million. East Bloc officials say the numbers on both sides are about the same.
The Warsaw Pact statement says troops to be withdrawn should be demobilized and discharged and that their arms and equipment could be destroyed, stored on national territory or "transferred to peaceful purposes."
It says tactical nuclear weapons with a range of less than 600 miles should be reduced simultaneously with the troop cuts and then dismantled.
At "the very beginning of the process," it says, there should also be a "significant reduction" in the tactical air forces of the two sides and a lowering of the concentration of troops stationed along "lines of contact" between East and West.
The program calls for "supplementary measures" to build confidence, such as limiting the size of military exercises and providing more information about them. These measures until now have been the subject of negotiations in Stockholm by the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
For verification, the East Bloc statement calls for the creation of an "international consultative committee" including NATO, East Bloc and neutral European representatives that would set up checkpoints at railway junctions, harbors and airports.