HAGGLING over verification has been one of the toughest parts of past superpower arms treaty talks. That's why the Bush administration is proposing that the United States and Soviet Union start trial inspections of long-range missile facilities before any strategic arms reduction pact is signed, according to Defense Secretary Richard Cheney.
By getting an early start on the difficult problem of settling verification details, ``you might make negotiations simpler rather than more complex,'' Secretary Cheney said at a breakfast with reporters.
US officials are particularly interested in early inspections of the Soviet's SS-24 rail-mobile missile, first deployed in 1987. If the US could place inspection teams around the perimeter of SS-24 production facilities now, officials would have confidence in their count of how many such missiles existed by the time strategic arms talks (START) reach any conclusion. Senate ratification of a treaty would be easier, as Senate conservatives typically raise arms verification concerns, Mr. Cheney said.
But critics say this proposal could mean a substantial delay in strategic arms talks progress. They say the US doesn't need experiments in tough verification practices, because intrusive procedures such as on-site monitoring are now being conducted to enforce the already-signed intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty. The proposal ``raises serious questions as to whether the Bush administration is seriously interested in getting a START agreement,'' said Arms Control Association president Spurgeon Keeney.
One of the longstanding START problems is the question of what to do about mobile missiles such as the SS-24. The US has called for a flat ban on mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), saying that they are too hard to track. The Soviets want them to be permitted, but capped by a numerical limit.