WASHINGTON -- President Reagan has used a new peace overture to Moscow to turn up the heat on Congress to authorize more than $1.1 billion for an intensified program to develop and stockpile chemical weapons.
Reagan opened his 23rd formal news conference Wednesday evening by announcing plans to offer the Soviet Union a global ban on chemical weapons during the upcoming meeting of the U.N. Committee on Disarmament in Geneva.
Calling his proposal 'a bold American initiative,' Reagan kicked off a campaign-season peace offensivewhile candidly spelling out his rationale for seeking $1.126 billion in fiscal 1985 for chemical warfare projects.
'If we're going to have a chemical warfare ban or a treaty banning them, you've got to have something to bargain with,' he said. 'Without a modern and credible deterrent, the prospects for achieving a comprehensive ban would be nil.'
Opponents of the chemical weapons program assailed his motives.
John Isaccs, a spokesman for the Council for a Livable World, said Reagan's professed desire for arms control 'is undermined by his simultaneous pursuit of new lethal nerve-gas weapons.'
'The president is trying to have it both ways,' Isaacs charged. 'He claims he's for a chemical arms agreement, while he is trying to launch a new chemical arms race. Congress should say no for the third straight year.'
The offer of a global ban on chemical weapons came two days after Reagan, citing the difficulty of verification compliance, ruled out any negotiations with the Soviets on a similar agreement governing anti-satellite systems.
Just as important, his overture came in the midst of a continuing deadlock between the superpowers over negotiations to limit medium-range nuclear missiles and strategic arms.
In reaffirming his 'continuing strong commitment to arms control,' Reagan voiced 'deep, personal regret' that the Soviets have not returned to the bargaining table in Geneva. 'So far,' he said, 'they have ignored the will of the world.'
Reagan cited the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Soviets in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan and by Iraq against Iran in advocating a worldwide ban on production, possession and use.
'The use of these terrible weapons,' he said, 'has serious implications for our own security.'
'The Soviet Union's extensive arsenal of chemical weapons threatens U.S. forces,' he added. 'It requires the United States to maintain a limited retaliatory capability of its own until we achieve an effective ban.'
Reagan is not the first to propose curbs on chemical arms. On March 2, Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko suggested such an agreement could help take some of the chill out of U.S.-Soviet relations.
A senior administration official said Reagan was offering a more comprehensive ban -- and acknowledged its broader scope presents additional difficulties in winning Soviet acceptance.
A major stumbling block in previous negotiations on chemical arms has been the development of mutually agreeable procedures to monitor compliance by both sides. Reagan acknowledged verification of a comprehensive chemical weapons ban 'won't be easy,' but promised to offer 'bold and sound verification procedures.'
Although he did not elaborate, administration officials confirmed this would require some form of on-site inspection of manufacturing and storage facilities -- a provision the Soviets have been reluctant to accept in the past.
However, the senior U.S. official said there has been 'some change in the Soviets' declaratory policy on on-site inspection' that gives rise to cautious optimism that the proposed comprehensive ban is an attainable goal.