Senate leaders Thursday struck a deal on an INF treaty interpretation issue, raising the prospect the historic pact, the first superpower arms accord in 16 years, could be approved later Thursday.
Senate Democratic leader Robert Byrd gave the Senate an amendment to the accord's crucial "resolution of ratification" declaring that future administrations may not reinterpret the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty without first getting Senate permission. The pact eliminates an entire class of superpower weaponry.Revisions in its language were made to satisfy Senate Republicans, who had been edgy about its impact on other accords such as the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
"We could pass it tonight," said Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, who helped craft compromise language in the proposal. He said the fact that Senate leaders signed off on the deal made White House participation unnecessary.
No final time had been set for a vote, and negotiations continued behind the scenes to clear away other, less significant problems before the Senate could vote.
Byrd said his amendment, is "intended to clarify and strengthen the Senate's role . . . in the interpretation of the treaty. . . . This amendment intends to make it crystal clear that common understandings reached by the executive branch and the Senate . . . binds the president and any future president."
"This does not break any new legal ground . . . it merely restates the current law. I see this amendment as going to the heart of one of the most important powers given the Senate by the Constitution," said Byrd.
Republican leader Robert Dole, who also was in on the INF interpretation negotiations, said, "I'm very optimistic about finishing today."
The issue is a direct result of President Reagan's effort to reinterpret the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - coincidentally, the last superpower pact the Senate approved - to expand development of his "Star Wars" program.
Looming over the compromise talks was a possible vote on a debate-limiting cloture motion, one that would lock the Senate into 30 hours of final treaty debate before approving the pact and rushing it to the Moscow summit for President Reagan to exchange with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Senators were able to move to the crucial resolution of ratification after arch-conservative Jesse Helms, R-N.C., abandoned his challenge to the pact.
As they sought the final agreement, the Senate approved 96-0 a package of three amendments rolled into one. They included a ban, already accepted by Moscow, on intermediate-range missiles with futuristic weapons aboard, one spelling out agreements reached by U.S. and Soviet officials in Geneva two weeks ago on verification matters, and one making technical corrections in U.S. treaty document data on which the negotiators recently traded diplomatic notes.
There was no question that the resolution would win the two-thirds vote the Constitution demands for the Senate to fulfill its role of providing "advice and consent" to treaties. Only the timing of the vote remained uncertain.
Reagan left Wednesday for a Finland stopover en route to the summit May 29, and senators said the treaty papers would be flown to him for formal presentation in Moscow once approved.
Helms conceded defeat just before the crushing of his last treaty amendment allowed under a partial agreement that got the Senate onto the ratification resolution.