WASHINGTON -- The Senate approved the historic INF treaty 93-5 Friday, clearing the way for formal ratification of the first binding U.S.-Soviet arms deal in 16 years and setting the stage for progress on broader arms control.
The Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement not only calls for the elimination of an entire class of superpower weaponry at unequal ratios, it also includes unprecedented arrangements to monitor compliance, elements that offer hope for future accords on ending the arms race and reducing the strategic weapons that threaten global destruction.
The vote, less than 48 hours before the opening of the Moscow summit means President Reagan will have the formal ratification documents in hand when he meets with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. White House chief of staff Howard Baker will leave Saturday to take the papers to Reagan in Finland for signing, an administration official said.
In a statement issued by the White House, the president thanked the Senate leadership for 'the timely approval of this treaty,' and said, 'Today's action by the Senate clearly shows support for our arms reduction objectives.'
Reagan also said he had invited Democratic leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas to come to Moscow for the formal exchange of ratification documents with Gorbachev on Wednesday.
Tenacious opposition from a small cadre of conservatives who prolonged the treaty debate left no major marks on the accord, which from the outset was assured of the two-thirds majority vote to the resolution giving the Senate's formal consent to the ratification. In the course of debate, 18 attempts to modify the treaty text and resolution were rejected. Only five resolution additions were approved.
Applause filled the chamber when the final vote was announced and Byrd asked that Reagan be immediately notified of the action.
'We're just delighted that we're sending you a treaty, and with an almost unanimous vote. ... It's a stronger treaty now by virtue of the process' of Senate-executive branch cooperation, Byrd said in a telephone conversation with the president.
Dole told Reagan he was 'very pleased to be able to give this to you in advance of your stepping on Soviet territory. ... This is really America's treaty -- not ours, not the president's. The treaty is in the best interest of the people and that's why the strong vote.'
The scene in Byrd's office bordered on slap-stick humor when Byrd and Dole found that only one of the two telephone sets would work. They traded the one working handset back and forth to talk with Reagan, each taking a turn holding the dead phone and pretending for the benefit of photographers they were listening to the president.
'It was a truly historic vote. We hope it will open a new era in Soviet-American relations,' said Boris Ivanov, a Soviet Embassy arms control attache who monitored the treaty's progress through the Senate and was present in Byrd's office for the phone conversation with Reagan.
With INF negotiator Maynard Glitman watching from the packed Senate gallery, the last amendments were resolved, including one from arch-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who fought the pact from the outset.
The Senate voted 94-4 for a watered-down Helms proposal asking that the Senate be consulted on further arms talks. He dropped provisions interfering with negotiations on reducing strategic armaments - long-range missiles and bombers. It rejected, on a voice vote, his amendment demanding that U.S. troops in Europe be withdrawn upon ratification of the treaty.
On the final vote, Helms was joined only by Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., Steve Symms, R-Idaho, Malcom Wallop, R-Wyo., and Ernest Hollings, D-S.C. Two Democrats did not vote, John Glenn of Ohio, who had a death in the family, and Joseph Biden of Delaware, who has been ill.
In a sign of the pressure to finish before the summit -- and to leave on a week's vacation -- no one objected when Byrd asked that members who wanted to give closing speeches just provide a text to be printed the Congressional Record.
The most significant addition to the resolution was a bipartisan amendment that declares future presidents must ask Senate permission to adopt any new interpretation of treaty provisions.
That language grew from a long-standing dispute with the administration over its bid to reinterpret the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to expand testing of part of Reagan's 'Star Wars' missile defense program. The ABM pact was the last superpower arms treaty ratified. The 1979 SALT 2 treaty, setting limits on strategic weapons, never received Senate approval.
The INF treaty, signed by Reagan and Gorbachev at their Washington summit Dec. 8, calls for the two nations to eliminate all ground-based missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles. Under the pact, 867 U.S. missiles must be destroyed, while the Soviets must scrap 1,752.
The treaty has only minimal impact on the military balance, but its import reaches far beyond the missiles, based largely in Europe, that it will destroy. Its unequal reductions in weaponry and verification aspects will have an impact on the strategic arms reduction talks, called START, and on talks on the balance between NATO and Warsaw Pact conventional forces in Europe.
The subject of seven years in start-and-stop negotiations, two months of hearings, a problem-solving session in Geneva and a Helms-led filibuster, the treaty and its ratification resolution spent nine days on the Senate floor and ran up against the psychological deadline of the summit, which opens Sunday.
Byrd, taking note of changes that evolved in the treaty, said, 'I think we've closed all the loopholes we know about ... and it's a much better treaty than when it was sent to the Hill.'
Assistant Democratic leader Alan Cranston of California said the nuclear arms race is the 'most fundamental danger facing our national security and facing the entire world and all human beings on this planet.'
The INF treaty, he said, is a breakthrough although 'it is not a substantively significant treaty. ... It lays the foundation (and) will enable us to move on, hopefully, to a START treaty and to other treaties that can substantially reduce the scale, cost and dangers of this arms race.'
The treaty marks a political victory for NATO, which agreed to deploy American intermediate-range, nuclear-armed missiles in Europe while negotiating for their withdrawal in exchange for destroying the three-warhead Soviet SS-20 and other Soviet INF missles.
And it was a victory for Reagan, the conservative Republican who once called the Soviet Union an 'evil empire.' He built up U.S. defense forces so he could negotiate from strength and pledged not to sign any treaty that was not verifiable. Less than six months ago, he triumphantly signed the treaty with Gorbachev, the fourth Kremlin leader to serve during Reagan's two terms.
The talks, which started in 1981, were suspended in 1983 when Moscow walked out with the first U.S. deployment of Pershing 2 and ground-based cruise missiles. They resumed in 1985 and the treaty was wrapped up days before the December summit.
Under the treaty, the covered missiles, listed in detailed protocols, will be destroyed over a three-year period, and no more can be produced. There will be 10 additional years for verification inspections. The warheads -- four times as many Soviet ones as U.S. ones - will be returned to national stockpiles.
Verification inspectors on both sides will be able to witness the destruction of the missiles and their associated equipment. They also will be able to monitor missile production plants to be sure no banned missiles are built. Former missile sites also can be inspected, and there are provisions for short-notice inspections and spy satellite checks.
The treaty also sets up a special verification panel that can be called together if there is a dispute about a treaty matter.
In addition to adding the provision governing future intepretation of the INF treaty, the Senate adopted two additions that had been agreed to in advance by Soviet negotiators. One bans either nation from putting futuristic weapons that might be developed on INF-range missiles that are allowed to remain, such as reconnaissance drones. The other recorded final agreements about verification details.
The treaty nearly ran afoul of partisan shenanigans Thursday night, when a Republican-sponsored amendment that would have gutted the hard-fought interpretation compromise was killed, but on a virtual party line vote.
Byrd was livid, saying the lack of GOP support in killing off the amendment was a vote 'against their own party and against their own president's having the treaty before he leaves the summit.' He said if the Senate kept getting 'Mickey Mouse amendments like this, the president is not going to have his treaty.'
His Senate colleagues, some of whom had just emerged joking from the cloakrooms where they were watching a basketball game, turned silent like a chastized school class, realizing that Byrd was serious.