Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze unveiled a new step Thursday in the disarmament process, announcing that tactical nuclear weapons would be removed from Eastern Europe along with 240,000 troops.

In a speech to foreign ministers on the final day of a three-day endorsement of the recently concluded 35-nation Vienna conference on European security and human rights, Shevardnadze also promised the Soviets would announce by the end of the month "data on the numbers of troops and armaments" of the Warsaw Pact.NATO welcomed the Soviet announcement but noted that the West already had significantly reduced its nuclear arsenal in Europe.

In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said U.S. officials would wait to gauge the ramifications of the announced withdrawals but said, "We welcome any move to reduce the Soviet military forces."

Earlier, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told reporters after a breakfast meeting with Shevardnadze that the Soviets "within the framework of troop reductions will withdraw troops from East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as well as tactical nuclear weapons, including rockets and artillery belonging to those troops."

Shevardnadze said the Soviets would begin troop pullouts, including the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons. "We proceed from the premise that nuclear weapons are a step backward, not forward," he explained.

"Pursuing its declared fundamental objective of removing any foreign military presence and bases from the territories of other countries, the Soviet Union will withdraw from Central Europe military formations and units with all their organic armaments, including tactical nuclear systems," he said in his speech.

Wednesday, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced a 14.2 percent cut in the defense budget and said nearly half of the 500,000 troops being demobilized from the armed forces will come from the European area.

In remarks to members of the Trilateral Commission, a non-governmental organization of politicians and business people from the United States, Western Europe and Japan, Gorbachev also said production of weapons and military technology would be reduced by 19.5 percent.

The Soviet leader elaborated on a Dec. 7 speech before the United Nations in New York in which he announced that 500,000 troops were being retired from the armed forces.

He said Wednesday that 240,000 of those being demobilized will come from the European part of the country - the forces facing the Western NATO alliance. Another 200,000 will come from the Far East and the remainder, or 60,000, from southern republics, he said.