Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the Intermediate- Range Nuclear Forces Treaty are to be chaired by Chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), according to a panel spokesman. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the European Affairs subcommittee, is to chair hearings Feb. 5 on European views on the treaty, the spokesman said. (Published 1/15/88)

LONDON, JAN. 13 -- The Western European allies firmly support the U.S.-Soviet treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear weapons but are anxious about future American policy on arms control, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said here today after talks with a number of European leaders.

Biden, who will chair Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on ratification of the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty later this month, said he may seek to attach conditions to the ratification resolution that would clarify the United States' post-INF arms control priorities.

The conditions, he said, would help allay the allies' concern by affirming a continuing U.S. commitment to the NATO doctrine of flexible response, which includes both nuclear and conventional defenses.

They also would set parameters and priorities for future East-West negotiations on strategic nuclear reductions, conventional force balance, the elimination of chemical weapons and eventual reductions in short-range nuclear weapons in Europe.

Under a Senate formula, conditions placed on a resolution of ratification can fall into several categories, ranging from those binding on the United States alone to those binding on the Soviet Union or any other partner to a treaty.

The measures Biden proposes would bind only the United States, committing it to broadly specified policy parameters and goals.

But in addition to reassuring the allies, he said, the plan also could help head off so-called "killer" amendments, threatened by ratification opponents in the Senate, that would seek to impose unacceptable conditions on Moscow. By spelling out and mandating U.S. priorities, Biden aides explained, limits would effectively be set for acceptable Soviet negotiating postures on the same issues.

Although Biden cautioned that his plan was still in the formulation stage and had not been discussed with Senate colleagues, aides said chances were "very high" that he would move ahead with it.

In the past week, Biden has met with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, French President Francois Mitterrand and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as well as senior foreign and defense ministry officials in each country. At North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels, he met with Secretary General Lord Carrington, NATO commander Gen. John R. Galvin and representatives of several other NATO governments.

On Thursday, he will travel to Moscow and a possible meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

While Senate leaders have said they believe the necessary two-thirds of the Senate will approve the treaty, there is concern that opponents may seize on alleged allied dissatisfaction as a means of delaying a vote.

But Biden said that European leaders told him privately what each of them has said in public -- that they "very, very strongly support" the treaty and that "it would be a serious mistake for the Senate to fail to ratify it."

What the Europeans are concerned about, he said, is what comes next. In this respect, Biden noted that the allies have been unsure of the overall U.S. commitment to nuclear defense since the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, when the two leaders discussed moves toward a "nuclear-free world."

Leading allied officials, in particular British and French, say a nuclear deterrent must be maintained long into the future. All were angered by what they saw as the lack of consultation preceding the Reykjavik talks.

Biden said that it was clear from his discussions throughout Europe that Reagan "has caused turmoil in the alliance. At one fell swoop, he undermined NATO policy of flexible response without any discussion. They feel he didn't understand it in the first place."

The Europeans believe that the next immediate goal in the arms control process should be the 50 percent reduction in strategic forces that Moscow and Washington have agreed to negotiate. But they have widely differing priorities on other arms control issues and are anxious that the United States listen to their concerns, incorporate them into its own plans and lead the way to a consensus.

Biden noted that there was a fundamental difference in perspective between the United States and its European allies on the meaning of the INF treaty. The weapons involved affect only Europe, leaving the United States under the same threat as before from Soviet strategic attack. Americans, Biden said, see the accord as "a first step toward building rapport between East and West" that might ultimately lead to increased U.S. security.

The allies, however, are much more immediately concerned with how the elimination of one class of weapons in Europe affects the balance of what remains on this side of the Atlantic.

After intermediate-range weapons are eliminated, West Germans say new U.S.-Soviet negotiations should be started to reduce or eliminate remaining short-range nuclear forces. Nearly all of those weapons are based either in West German territory, in the case of NATO, or, in the case of the Warsaw Pact, aimed at West German territory.

There is concern among the pro-nuclear governments in London and Paris that the Soviets may seek to take advantage of antinuclear public sentiment in West Germany to offer a hard-to-refuse deal eliminating all short-range nuclear arms.

Britain and France have indicated that this would be disastrous, leaving NATO at a disadvantage until reductions in the Warsaw Pact's conventional superiority in Europe could be negotiated.

Washington Post correspondent Robert J. McCartney contributed to this report from Bonn.