A Nov. 25 report quoted Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) as suggesting that a treaty negotiated by one administration could be carried over to another for ratification. Nunn said he was referring to a prospective strategic arms agreement, not the intermediate nuclear forces (INF) pact that is scheduled to be signed here next week. (Published 12/3/87)

The nuclear arms treaty President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will sign at next month's summit here faces an unexpectedly difficult ratification battle in the Senate, where conservative Republicans are already maneuvering to block it and future arms pacts with the Soviet Union.

While Senate leaders, staff members and administration officials in recent interviews said chances are good that the required two-thirds of the Senate eventually will vote to ratify the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, scrapping U.S. and Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, they said a lengthy and bitter debate could adversely affect more far-reaching arms negotiations between Washington and Moscow.

But these sources foresee serious problems on two fronts:Amendments, reservations or understandings could be adopted that would alter the treaty or attempt to address Soviet behavior; some could be "killer amendments," politically popular here but unacceptable to the Soviet Union. Slow-moving Senate procedures, compounded by foot-dragging tactics of treaty opponents, could delay floor action on the treaty until the 1988 presidential season is nearing its peak next summer or beyond, making the treaty vulnerable to international developments, and damaging prospects for a follow-on strategic arms accord in this administration.

In a political irony, Reagan's INF treaty is expected to get its strongest support from Democrats and its stiffest opposition from the president's earliest, most ardent backers in the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Although conservatives generally express continued loyalty to Reagan, they are increasingly disenchanted with administration policies and actions, ranging from budget compromises with the Democrats to arms control talks with the Soviets. Much of their own agenda has been sidetracked, and many are unhappy that an arms agreement with the Soviets might be the capstone of an administration in which they invested so much hope. For some, U.S.-Soviet relations are an issue of conscience that transcends political loyalties, even to Reagan.

"We still have a lot of faith in Reagan but there is a lot of distrust of the negotiating process, a feeling that it leads to concessions that are unwise . . . a problem that is almost endemic to any presidency," said Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho), who heads the conservatives' Republican Steering Committee. "It's not so much INF . . . but what's next."

Conservatives loyal to Reagan, he said, have been shaken by "other disappointments, other judgments they don't share," including State Department policies and appointments. So they want "more than just assurances," even from Reagan, he added.

Hard-core conservative treaty opponents are few, perhaps less than a half-dozen, says an arms control strategist. But they have power beyond their numbers because of obstructionist tactics available to minority blocs in the Senate and because one of their key leaders, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), is strategically poised as ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, the key panel handling the treaty.

More than a dozen Republicans -- perhaps considerably more -- could eventually join a Senate effort to block or significantly amend the treaty, according to one senior Republican member.

By contrast, most Democrats are considered likely INF supporters, with Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) reportedly ready to lead the ratification effort. One senatorial nose-counter said that of an estimated "come-what-may" starting count of 40 to 50 votes, only seven or eight are Republicans.

Separate Democratic and Republican leadership agendas and presidential campaign cross-currents further complicate things. Byrd may try to use the treaty to lever action on two smaller accords limiting the size of underground nuclear tests, and to pressure the Soviets to leave Afghanistan.

Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), a presidential candidate courting the GOP right wing, voices only lukewarm support for the treaty, and is worried by verification and other issues. Vice President Bush supports the treaty and the other GOP presidential aspirants oppose it, while all the Democratic candidates indicate they support it. These splits could intensify strictly political divisions over the treaty as the campaign progresses.

In Denver yesterday, the president said he would "try to convince" doubting senators that the INF treaty will not make the United States less safe.

But prospects for early agreement on a new U.S.-Soviet strategic arms treaty, which could cut long-range nuclear arsenals by as much as 50 percent, depend largely on speedy INF treaty ratification.

"I think there is a chance we can get a START {strategic arms reduction} treaty negotiated by spring, but I don't think the Soviets can be expected to sign off on a START treaty until the Senate ratifies INF," said Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who is working on ratification strategy.

A senior U.S. arms negotiator, who asked not to be named, agreed. "The Soviets have made it very clear that if INF is in trouble in the Senate in March or April, they won't sign a START treaty," he said.

If Reagan cannot win INF ratification before leaving office, it would be the second time the Soviets have seen a prospective treaty shelved by the Senate. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty, which the Senate never ratified.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) said that if the administration sends the INF treaty to Capitol Hill promptly after signing, committee hearings could begin in mid-January, with a "target date" of mid-February for Senate floor action.

Cranston said ratification could be speeded by referring the treaty simultaneously to the Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence committees in hopes of quick hearings and reports by all three.

But others on Capitol Hill said such action is highly improbable. A senior Democratic aide said the INF pact is unlikely to go to the Senate floor before mid-April. A senior Republican aide said he did not see how a ratification vote could come before the end of the summer.

Any such delays could be bad news for the quick strategic arms treaty that both Reagan and Gorbachev pledged to seek. But Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) of the Armed Services Committee said, "It's not necessary to ratify a treaty in any particular administration. It might be helpful to serve notice on the Soviets that we are going to have some continuity in policy."

Nunn said he expects "some expression by the Senate" on treaty-related matters such as the need for strong conventional forces in Europe, INF verification and conditions for a strategic arms agreement. Nunn said he doubted any such moves would "change the nature of the agreement" as "killer amendments," but added that there is "always the risk of that."

Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) said his group of INF treaty opponents favors an amendment or reservation that would say "none of the {INF} terms would be binding until existing treaties are complied with," including the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, SALT II and others.

Helms, in a letter to Secretary of State George P. Shultz last week, tipped off the GOP conservatives' attack by demanding answers to five pages of detailed questions about the INF accord, centering on Soviet violations of earlier treaties, potential treaty verification problems, and charges of Soviet deception in past pacts. Helms is demanding a new administration report about Soviet violations that is due on Capitol Hill Dec. 1, less than a week before Gorbachev's arrival here. Helms suggested in the letter that a delay, now anticipated, would amount to a "cover-up."

An earlier Helms amendment tying INF ratification to compliance with the ABM treaty was defeated 62 to 28 in the Senate Sept. 27. INF opponents pointed out that this was only six votes shy of the 34 votes needed to block ratification of a treaty by the required two-thirds majority. The attachment of amendments or reservations, however, is decided by simple majority vote.