THE only obstacles to a historic arms treaty that will drastically cut conventional arsenals in Europe are a few peripheral issues, say United States Secretary of State James Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. Following a five-hour meeting Wednesday, Mr. Baker and Mr. Shevardnadze announced that they had reached agreement on all major issues concerning the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.
Baker said that the only significant question left concerned a reduction in helicopters. But obstacles on combat aircraft and verification procedures had been overcome.
The CFE treaty will limit and reduce the number of tanks, planes, and artillery deployed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact between the Atlantic and the Ural Mountains. According to some estimates, the Soviets will have to destroy up to 40,000 tanks.
On aircraft, the problem partly involved definitions. The Soviet Union wanted to exclude several classes of planes it said were purely defensive or used for training. The US said that they could be converted to attack planes and wanted them included in the treaty.
Baker indicated that the ministers had compromised on this. One class of Soviet naval planes would be excluded from the treaty.
The treaty is tentatively scheduled for signing in Paris Nov. 18, one day before the opening of a summit of the 35 members of the Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe.
Baker was asked whether the US would now be able to attend the summit to sign the treaty. He struck a slightly cautious note.
``We do not have an agreement in hand yet. Let's make sure there aren't any hitches that develop during the drafting process. Let's make certain we don't have problems with allies. We don't anticipate any,'' he said.
Baker and Shevardnadze also discussed remaining issues on a treaty to reduce superpower arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons.
Shevardnadze said that there had been progress towards this Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the superpowers hope to sign by the end of this year. But the two ministers ran out of time and decided to meet again in New York today.
Baker and Shevardnadze met twice last week and cleared up one problem relating to limits on the proportion of total forces in each alliance the superpowers will be able to deploy. But another agreement setting out limits on forces in defined geographical zones came unstuck when NATO members on the northern and eastern flanks, notably Norway and Turkey, objected to the deal. Baker said that this had been solved at Wednesday's meeting.