MOSCOW, OCT. 5 -- A Soviet general said today that U.S. plans to produce a new form of chemical weapons this year could "torpedo" talks in Geneva on an international ban on chemical weaponry.
Lt. Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich spoke at a press conference here after 110 foreign experts from the Geneva Conference on Disarmament ended a tour of a once secret Soviet chemical weapons facility at Shikhany, on the Volga River.
The Soviet Union announced in April that it had halted production of chemical weapons. The United States, which stopped production in 1969, is preparing to modernize its chemical arsenal starting this December with a program to produce binary weapons -- two chemical agents that become lethal only when combined, and thus can be more safely stored and transported.
"The U.S. binary program creates serious obstacles if it does not torpedo altogether the negotiations" in Geneva, Kuntsevich said. He accused Washington of "starting a new spiral in the arms race" with new production.
Max Friedersdorf, U.S. ambassador to the talks in Geneva, rose from the audience at the press conference to challenge Soviet assertions and defend U.S. policy, but his comments were ruled out of order since they were statements, not questions.
Col. Gen. Vladimir Pikalov, commander of the Soviet chemical corps, also disputed U.S. assertions that the Soviet chemical arsenal is significantly greater than the U.S stockpile. He said estimates of 300,000 tons of stockpiled chemical agents in the Soviet Union were preposterous and that the two countries were close to parity.
The Soviets have said they will not give figures or locations of their stockpile until required to do so -- which is 30 days after a convention on chemical weapons is signed in Geneva. The United States also has not provided figures for its stockpile, but it has issued maps locating the weapons, and giving characteristics of each stockpile.
After the press briefing, Friedersdorf told reporters that the U.S. military believes that the 300,000-ton estimate for the Soviet stockpile is moderate. He said the Soviet accumulation was "six to seven" times the American arsenal, which has been estimated by one Scandinavian monitoring group to be 30,000 tons.
Six Soviet observers are expected to visit U.S. chemical weapons facilities in Tooele, Utah, in November. Soviets were invited on a similar tour in 1983, but did not attend.