WASHINGTON -- The Senate rebuffed repeated assaults on the INF treaty from conservative Republicans Monday, delaying attacks GOP leader Robert Dole called an embarrassment to the party and the president.
Secretary of State George Shultz, getting ready for next week's Moscow summit, urged the Senate to give President Reagan the treaty in time for the superpower meeting that begins Sunday.
The treaty has been exhaustively examined, Shultz told reporters after meeting with Dole and other Republicans, 'so there's a time to inquire, and there is a time to vote. It seems to me it would be good if the Senate can conclude its business and we can show the world that the United States can come to closure.' He said it would 'take a little of the edge off' the summit if the treaty were not ratified.
Turned down by the Senate Monday were amendments by conservatives Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., and Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo.
Humphrey's amendment -- decried by a critic as the 'killer amendment of killer amendments' -- would have barred implementation of the accord eliminating an entire class of superpower missiles until a START or strategic arms reduction pact was signed. It failed 81-5.
It brought a cry of protest from Sen. James Exon, D-Neb., who said the treaty, because of the conservative stall, 'is being held hostage by this type of a killer amendment that goes on and on.'
A Helms proposal to block implementation of the treaty until a presidential certification on the accuracy of Soviet data on its SS-20 missile failed 81-13, and Wallop's proposal, defeated 68-26, sought to clear up a poorly worded section of the treaty.
Helms, repeating claims made in treaty hearings, reviewed differing intelligence agency estimates about the number of triple-warhead SS-20s Moscow has, saying the Kremlin could hide a covert force of missiles.
Treaty supporters brushed off his claim, noting that the bulk of the intelligence community disagreed with the higher estimate Helms subscribed to, and, saying that even if Moscow retained some missiles, they would quickly lose their usefulness because of treaty bans on production and flight testing and any equipment associated with the missiles.
The treaty, over three years, calls for the destruction of about 867 U.S. ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, and about 1,752 Soviet ones. The missiles have ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.
The treaty also has unprecedented on-site verification provisions and contains unequal reductions in weapons and warheads to be returned to national stockpiles.
The Senate cannot move to the all-important resolution of ratification accompanying the pact until it finishes with amendments to the treaty text.
The conservatives' stall made it impossible for the pact to be approved by Wednesday, when President Reagan leaves for a Finland stopover en route to his Moscow summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
However, ratification still could come by the May 29-June 2 summit.
When the Senate gets to the resolution of ratification -- the document used to convey the 'advice and consent' of the Senate required by the Constitution -- it faces a contentious debate on a Democratic proposal to make future presidents ask Senate permission to reinterpret the treaty.
Treaty and resolution riders need only a majority vote, but the final tally on the resolution must be two-thirds or better. Assistant Democratic leader Alan Cranston of California, a veteran vote-counter, estimates the resolution has a minimum of 78 votes on final passage.
The conservatives' delay frustrated Dole, who said there were 'a couple or three people holding us up. It's kind of embarrassing to our party and president.'
Dole joked that if the pact was ready after Reagan leaves Washington but before the end of the summit, 'I guess we could missile them (treaty papers) over there.'
Arguing against Helms' amendment were Sens. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Both acknowledged the differing intelligence estimates of Soviet SS-20 missiles, and Lugar said proving the 'negative' of no covert missile force is 'akin to proving the Loch Ness monster does not exist. Short of draining the loch of every drop of water,' it cannot be done.
Helms, Lugar and Pell agreed there are technical errors in the treaty that need to be corrected but differed on whether they should be corrected during debate on the treaty or fixed with language added to the resolution of ratification. Helms argued to make the corrections on the treaty. That issue was left unresolved when Helms withdrew a correcting amendment.
Helms noted that the State Department now is making 'corrections to the corrections,' and evoked a chuckle when he added, 'This illustrates the dangers of rushing pell-mell into treaties to meet certain deadlines established by the stars, or whatever.'