The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 17-2 Wednesday to send the INF treaty to the full Senate in a decisive step toward ratification of the historic pact that eliminates an entire class of nuclear weapons.

Only archconservative Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., voted against the accord that is expected to win Senate approval after three or four weeks of floor debate starting in mid-April.Two-thirds of the Senate must endorse the pact for it to be ratified. Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, who was absent when the committee vote was taken, later voted for the measure.

Helms, who lost at every turn in his committee efforts to attach "killer amendments" to the treaty, has vowed a floor fight against the pact that calls for the elimination of U.S. and Soviet land-based missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.

"Another day, another dollar," Helms said after the vote. He indicated the real fight will come on the Senate floor, adding he was convinced at least one issue that proved to be contentious in the committee process -- whether the treaty affects future weapons -- has not been resolved.

Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., a chief force for the treaty on the committee, said he knew of only three absolute "no" votes in the full Senate but left open the possibility of last-minute problems.

"I think the chance for passage is very good," he said, and it would be an "embarrassment to the president and a hindrance" for him to attend a super power summit in Moscow next month without a ratified INF treaty in hand.

A day before the treaty was approved by the committee, the panel voted 12-7 to add a provision barring future changes in the treaty meaning, except on the advice and consent of the Senate through a subsequent treaty, protocol or law.

The panel also declared that a potential controversy over whether the treaty covered futuristic weapons was defused by an administration assurance that all weapons capable of covering the prohibited range of 300 to 3,400 miles would be banned by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces pact.

Both issues had threatened to delay committee action in the hours before the final vote, but Democrats with the help of an unusual ally in Helms moved forward by adding a provision to the treaty's ratification resolution.

However, some moderate Republicans who protested the interpretation measure forced on them Tuesday warned that could turn them against the treaty as well.

The debate on the provision late Tuesday was heated, with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., accusing Democrats of effectively derailing the historic accord signed Dec. 8 in Washington by Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"It's a deliberate attempt to embarrass the president, to really shove it to (him)," Lugar complained.