Gorbachev offers to abolish all nukes within 15 years as arms talks resume

By Michael J. Bonafield
The Washington Times Foreign Service

Geneva Switzerland -- U.S. and Soviet arms control negotiators begin their fourth round of talks today with an offer from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to abolish nuclear weapons within 15 years. However, a precondition of Mr. Gorbachev's three-stage proposal called for eilmlnation of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, making it doubtful that it would ever be accepted by the United States.

While little of substance is expected to emerge from the talks, they are seen as a test of how much U.S.-Soviet relations have improved since the November summit. And as a gesture of good will, Mr. Gorbachev offered a three-month extension of the Soviet Union's freeze on underground nuclear testing.

In a statement issued at the White House, Reagan said. "I welcome the Soviets latest response and hope that it represents a helpful further step in the process. We, together with our allies, will give careful study to General Secretary Gorbachev's suggestions He noted, however, that some elements contained in the proposal are unchanged from previous Kremlin positions and continue to cause serlous concern.

The U.S. team is led by Ambassador Max Kampelman, the Soviet side by Viktor Karpov. The talks are being held at the Soviet mission to the United Nations here.

First on rhe agenda is a Soviet response to an American proposal tabled on the eve of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit. It called for sweeping reductions in the numher of nuclear warheads, inter-continental ballistic missiles and long range bombers in each arsenal, in addition to cutbacks in the number of medium-range missiles deployed in Europe.

When the third round of talks adjourned on Nov. 10, nine days before the three-day meeting between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev Mr. Kampelman said he believed that "it had been a productive round, although he would have preferred to be further along toward an agreement"

During the summit, the president and the Soviet Communist Party leader devoted considerable time to the arms talks, but the outcome of those "fireside chats," as Mr. Reagan described them, was not known.

Gorbachev's proposal, read by an announcer on Soviet television yesrerday outlined a three-stage plan for "ridding the earth of nuclear weapons" within 15 years. It appeared to hinge on U.S. abandonment of the proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, a research program for the development of a space-based missile defense system.

At the same time, Mr. Gorbachev said the Soviets will extend a unilareral moratorium on nuclear testing for another three months. The unilateral ban on testing was announced by the Kremlin in August and expired Jan, 1.

Mr. Gorbachev said the first stage of his plan is for each side to reduce by half the nuclear arms that can reach each other's territory, a stage that would occur within the next four to eipht years.

But, in an obvious reference to SDI, the statement said. "Such a reduction is possible only if the Soviet Union and the United States Mutually- renounce the development, testing and deployment of space strike weapons."

The first stage of the Soviet plan wouid involve ..adoption and implementation of the decision on the complete eliminatlon of Intermediate-range missiles of the USSR and the USA in the European zone, both ballistic and cruise missiles: Mr. Gorbachev said.

"At the second stage, which should start no later than 1990 and last for five to seven years, the other nuclear powers will begin to engage in nuclear disarmament, the Soviet leader said. They would pledge to freeze all their nuclear arms and not to have them in the territories of other countries.

The reference apparently was to the independent nuclear forces of France, Britain and China.

Mr. Gorhachev said after the superpowers have reduced their "relevant arms" by 5O percent all nuclear powers would be called on to eliminate their tactical nuclear arms.

The rhird stage, to begin no Later than 199, Mr. Cocbechev said, calls for elimination of all remaining nuclear weapons on earth and a universal agreement not to bring them inro being again.

..And when does the tooth fairy come?" asked Defense Forecast's Barry M. Blechman in Washington "Nuclear weapons are a 40-year-old technoiogy.

There's no way you can erase human knowledge. The abolition of nuclear weapons is not going to happen and can't happen. We have to learn how to live with them."

The superpowers can reduce the numbers and particular types of nuclear weapons through negotiations, he sald, but it's not helpful to raise unrealisric expectations, whether it's from Gorbachev Reagan or Carter."

Observers here have long expected the Soviets to mount a new carnpaign to win major concessions from the United States on SDI.

Last October, durinp his state visit to France, Mr. Gorbachev called for a 50 percent reduction in the number of offensive nuclear weapons held by the superpowers but tied rhe offer io U.S. willingness to halt SDI research.

In Washington, Soviet diplomat Vadim Kuznetzov promised Tuesday that the Soviets would meet..any challenge" posed by SDI and that his country's s coun- termeasures would be taken "at a fraction of the cost.]

Mr. Reagan has stated repeatedly that the United States would not compromise on SDI.

The United States countered Mr. Gorbachev's "50 percent solution" with a broad offer that would, among other things, put a lid of 4.500 on the number of nuclear warheads allowed by each side. That is the offer the Soviets are ex- pected to respond to today.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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