VIENNA, FEB. 14 -- The Soviet Union faced unified criticism today at the start of a new round of conventional arms talks, where negotiators said they saw no point in submitting further proposals as long as Moscow was imperiling a three-month-old treaty to cut tanks, artillery and other nonnuclear weapons.
The Vienna talks, a continuation of the Conventional Forces in Europe negotiations known as CFE1A, got underway in the Hofburg Palace in a chilly atmosphere that contrasted with the optimism leading up to the signing of the far-reaching treaty in Paris on Nov. 19.
U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III said last week that he was reluctant to seek Senate ratification of the treaty unless the Soviet Union backs down in a dispute over its interpretation. The main problem is a Soviet effort to exempt several motorized rifle divisions and infantry brigades by reclassifying them as "naval coastal entities." The exemption, largely involving units near the Baltic and on the Black Sea, would allow the Soviets to keep 3,500 tanks, artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers beyond the treaty limit of 46,700.
NATO states, backed by Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria, were unified in their rejection of this Soviet effort at today's first full session of the 22-nation talks, according to delegates. Romania was said to have taken no position.
"The ball is in the Soviets' court," a delegate said afterward. "Everyone who spoke today said, 'You created this problem. It's not a subject for negotiations. It's a subject for you to back off from your position, which is fraudulent.' "
At a separate session of a committee monitoring data on how states intend to comply with the treaty, the Soviets submitted new figures that could help meet Western objections to Moscow's earlier estimates of the overall size of its forces and the sites subject to inspection. But NATO negotiators said the new data are still being analyzed and they did not see any movement on the exemption of coastal units.
Soviet Ambassador Oleg Grinevsky conceded to the full meeting that problems had arisen over the treaty's interpretation but urged that work proceed in the new round nonetheless. The CFE treaty calls for the new talks to develop limits on troops stationed in Europe and a system of aerial inspection to complement the treaty's on-site verification measures.
The tougher Soviet attitude has also cast a shadow over the new Conflict Prevention Center being set up in Vienna as part of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The center, headed by Danish diplomat Bent Willy Gruener Rosenthal, hopes to promote European stability, in part through the institutionalized exchange of military data by member states and other measures aimed at furthering military "transparency."
According to measures adopted at the Paris summit, individual states can call an emergency meeting at the center to discuss "unusual military activity."
Some states have raised the possibility of invoking this measure to help prevent further Soviet military moves against the independence movements in the Baltic republics. This has yet to be done, but U.S. Ambassador John J. Maresca flatly rejected a contention by his Soviet colleague that the measure applies only to a "threat to security in international relations."