U.S. and Soviet arms negotiators have discussed a potential compromise on a treaty eliminating medium-range and short-range nuclear missiles, but agreement has been held up by Soviet reluctance to embrace the idea, senior U.S. officials said yesterday.
"We have no real indications of any breakthroughs or deals or tradeoffs," chief U.S. negotiator Max M. Kampelman said in an interview, "although we remain very hopeful that such an agreement is possible."
State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said that contrary to published reports yesterday of an agreement in principle on a nuclear arms treaty, "we haven't reached an agreement -- either formal, informal, in principle, handshake or otherwise."
Several U.S. officials said informal remarks in Geneva two weeks ago by Col. Gen. Nikolai Chervov, head of the arms control directorate of the Soviet General Staff, initially sparked hopes of a negotiations breakthrough.
Chervov told U.S. negotiators over lunch that he was interested in exploring the possibility of a deal in which the Soviets would eliminate medium-range and short-range missiles in their Asian region in exchange for a U.S. commitment not to convert European-based missiles of similar range into weapons that would not be covered by the treaty.
The Soviets have long insisted on retaining 100 medium-range missile warheads and 40 short-range missile launchers in Asia, arguing that they were needed to balance U.S. and allied forces in South Korea and elsewhere in the Pacific area. The United States has also insisted on the right to convert existing Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe to shorter-range missiles or cruise missiles based on ships, although it has no formal plans to do so.
U.S. officials said however that several days after Chervov's comments, Soviet deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator Yuli Vorontsov told U.S. negotiators that Chervov's remarks had been misunderstood and that his government opposed such a deal.
Several officials said the administration would still pursue the idea at a meeting in the United States this month between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, if the Soviets accept the U.S. offer for such a meeting.
U.S. negotiators have said the deal is appealing because destruction of the Soviet Asian missiles would obviate the need for continuous on-site inspection by the United States of production, assembly, storage, and maintenance facilities tied to these missiles. The Soviets have strongly objected to continuous monitoring of production facilities, and U.S. intelligence agencies have also expressed anxiety over giving the Soviets the right to inspect sensitive U.S. facilities.
U.S. officials have also said that destruction of all medium-range Soviet missile warheads would eliminate the need for 100 U.S. Pershing II missiles that the administration has said it wants the right to deploy in Alaska. The Soviets have objected to any potential Pershing II deployment in Alaska.
U.S. officials were doubtful, however, that the compromise would also resolve a dispute over 72 existing Pershing Ia nuclear missiles in West Germany. The Soviets have insisted that the U.S. warheads for these short-range missiles be eliminated, but the United States has refused on the grounds that the missiles are owned by the West Germans.
U.S. officials said they would not accept any deal that constrained the Pershing Ia's, and also said that they want to keep the right to sell the Germans new missiles to replace the Pershing Ia's in the early 1990's. They said the compromise would stop any sale of modified Pershing II's for this purpose, but that it would not stop the transfer of a new, as yet uninvented, nuclear missile.