The Soviets are bending over backward to comply with the treaty calling for destruction of all intermediate-range missiles, a sign that they are eager for a more sweeping pact to slash nuclear arsenals, says the chief U.S. inspector.

"The whole thing is going a whole lot better than we expected," said Brig. Gen. Roland Lajoie, who in 19 previous years of dealing with the Soviets had found little reason to love them.Lajoie, 52, has served two stints as a military attache in Moscow and was commander of the U.S. liaison office in East Germany in 1985 when Soviet soldiers shot and killed American Maj. Arthur Nicholson.

"Each of us has some unpleasant little anecdote," said Lajoie, whose face was smashed when the truck in which he was riding was rammed from behind by a Red Army vehicle in East Germany five months after the Nicholson incident.

But, says Lajoie, "we are professional officers."

And "there is a political will on both sides to make this thing work. But I am under no political pressure to whitewash the process," Lajoie said in an interview.

He said the Soviets clearly view verification of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty as a foundation for cooperation on the more ambitious Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty - START - to cut long-range superpower weapons by 30 to 50 percent. START talks are stalled while the Bush administration reviews overall U.S. policy.

START, said Lajoie, "is going to be much more complicated" to verify because the number of weapons involved is much larger and because it calls for reduction rather than elimination of specific systems.

Overhead satellites will remain the backbone of U.S. verification, said Lajoie, but like the INF pact, START calls for on-site inspections on demand at dozens of locations in the United States, Western Europe and the Soviet bloc.

Under the INF regime, the United States also is allowed to keep 30 inspectors outside a Soviet mobile missile plant in Votkinsk, 700 miles east of Moscow, while the Soviets leave a similar group in Magna, Utah.

Lajoie and the other 250 Americans assigned to the inspection agency consult regularly with the START negotiators, and some of the military officers on the START team have accompanied the INF inspectors on their rounds to make sure that lessons are learned.

"There are certain minor provisions for which we would prefer different wording," said Lajoie, noting a requirement that inspectors tour a facility within one hour of arrival, no matter what time they get there.

Since Lajoie supervised the creation of the On-Site Inspection Agency in April 1988, the Soviets have destroyed 30.8 percent of their 1,836 short- and medium-range missiles, and the United States has destroyed 30.5 percent of its 867 Pershing 2 and ground-launched cruise missiles.> "We're both a little ahead of the curve" for the three-year destruction period, said Lajoie.