As President Reagan prepares to hand over to the Senate the treaty he signed this week with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe, he enters one of the twilight zones of the American political system, one that has bedeviled many presidents.

When George Washington came before the Senate nearly 200 years ago to get its advice on a set of Indian treaties, he was so appalled at the spectacle that he stormed out, vowing later that he would "be damned" if he ever met again with the Senate.

Decades later, Woodrow Wilson became so outraged over Senate tampering with the treaty to create the League of Nations that he called on his followers to join treaty foes in voting against the pact.

While Reagan is expected to have better luck than Washington and Wilson in their treaty encounters with the Senate, he will be dealing with a complicated procedure that foes have often exploited to complicate, cripple or seriously delay the implementation of treaties without killing them outright.

A case in point was the post-World War II Connally amendment governing U.S. participation in the World Court, which unilaterally allowed the U.S. to exempt itself from the court's jurisdiction, seriously undermining the court's powers to resolve international disputes.

It took the Senate 37 years to act on another post-war pact, a 1949 international convention outlawing genocide. But, in approving the treaty last year, the Senate attached conditions holding up final ratification for passage of implementing legislation, which has not yet been approved by Congress.

But other treaties have been helped by a ratification procedure that has allowed the Senate to attach reservations and other conditions in a way that satisfies members' objections without jeopardizing the agreements themselves -- a kind of legislative shock absorber that keeps the whole process from falling apart.

A recent example of this was the reservation offered by Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) to the Panama Canal treaties in 1978. His vote was critical, and, as the price for winning it, the Senate agreed to a reservation allowing the United States to use military force to reopen the canal if it was closed or its operations were disrupted. Panama accepted the reservation, and the treaties went into effect.

The Constitution provides simply that the president shall make treaties with the "advice and consent" of the Senate, which must concur in the results by two-thirds majority. The vagueness of this language provided a vacuum that the Senate filled over the years with rules, procedures and precedents that give it far-reaching power to attach conditions that can force changes in the thrust of a treaty, sometimes even requiring renegotiation.

The Senate can -- but rarely does -- approve amendments to the resolution of ratification that force renegotiation of the treaty to accommodate the Senate's demands. It can also approve reservations, which, in the case of bilateral treaties like the U.S.-Soviet INF pact, can force renegotiation if they impose conditions unacceptable to another country. Declarations, understandings and other provisos normally do not require renegotiation.

Ratification of the INF pact may be complicated by an ongoing dispute between the Senate and the administration over the correct interpretation of an earlier arms-control treaty, the 1972 pact banning antiballistic missiles. The administration has claimed that the ABM Treaty is ambiguous in ways that would allow for expanded tests of "Star Wars" technology that key senators, especially Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, think are illegal under that treaty.

In an effort to force the administration to back down from its rationale for its new, "broad interpretation" of the ABM pact, Nunn has served notice he may attempt to clarify any ambiguities in the INF pact in a manner that would require Soviet assent or renegotiation. Unless the dispute is resolved, it could become a major complication in ratification of the INF treaty.

Often the Senate embroidery passes largely unnoticed, sometimes used more for domestic political consumption than for international impact. Other times, it can change the course of history.

In a recent example of this, as the Senate was considering implementation of the 1972 SALT I agreement, the late Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) insisted on an amendment requiring numerical equality in any future U.S.-Soviet treaty limiting offensive weapons. It is a principle that has governed the course of arms negotiations ever since.

As INF proponents see it, one of their toughest jobs will be to accommodate conditions that senators want to attach to the treaty dealing with such issues as verification and compliance, Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and reduction of conventional military forces without imposing "killer" conditions that would be unacceptable to the Soviet Union.

Amendments, reservations and other conditions can be approved by a simple majority vote of the Senate, while it takes a two-thirds vote to approve ratification. Opponents of the treaty may be tempted to look for attractive-sounding conditions or reservations that could win the votes of 51 members but make the pact unacceptable to the Soviets instead of trying to defeat it outright with 34 negative votes.

"If you don't want the treaty to take effect, you devise an amendment that would be politically irresistible but totally unacceptable to the Soviets," said a Senate aide. "If you want the treaty, you draft it so it would be no problem {to the Soviets}," he added.

For instance, Senate treaty experts say, the Senate could urge Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan or call on the United States to push for withdrawal without forcing renegotiation of the treaty. But it would be putting the treaty itself at risk if it were to tie U.S. dismantling of INF weapons to Soviet actions in Afghanistan.

Similarly, the Senate could wind up walking a fine line if it tries to tighten verification and compliance provisions or force agreement on conventional-force reductions, as some conservatives have suggested.

An even more serious difficulty could occur if weak spots turn up in what both the United States and Soviet Union are touting as landmark verification procedures. Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) has cited that as "an area that could cause real problems."

Under Senate procedures for treaty consideration, the INF treaty and its protocols will be referred to the Foreign Relations Committee after Reagan gives them to the Senate, presumably before Congress reconvenes in mid-January. After hearings and consideration of relevant sections by the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, the treaty is expected to be reported to the Senate floor by the end of February.

A recent rules change streamlines procedures for Senate consideration of the ratification resolution, but it is still a two-stage process, with ample opportunity for surgery and delay. Senate leaders predict a final vote by mid-April.

The treaty itself takes effect only when the United States and the Soviet Union exchange instruments of ratification, indicating all terms are satisfactory to both sides.