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U.S., Soviets clear way for arms-control summit

The United States and the Soviet Union announced Saturday that they had settled their differences on a far-reaching treaty reducing conventional arms in Europe and that they were preparing for a summit meeting, possibly by the end of June, between President Bush and President Mikhail Gorbachev. After a long meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, Secretary of State James Baker said that Saturday's agreement would allow the two sides to step up negotiations on a new strategic arms reduction accord, which is scheduled to be signed at the summit meeting.

Baker said that the two leaders hoped to meet in Moscow to sign the new treaty "at the earliest possible date," but he refused to speculate when the summit meeting might be held.

"We had hoped for it in the first half of 1991," he said. "I can't say we can meet that schedule, but we will work to that end."

Bush, in a commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., hailed the settlement for "clearing the way for an important step toward a superpower summit."

The summit meeting had originally been planned for early this year but was postponed at Gorbachev's request after strenuous American criticism of a Soviet crackdown against the Baltic republics. Progress toward a strategic-arms treaty was also slowed by disagreements over the conventional-weapons treaty.

That treaty, which was hailed as the most sweeping disarmament accord ever when it was signed at a major East-West summit meeting in Paris in November, establishes limits on the number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, combat aircraft and combat helicopters that can be held by NATO and Warsaw Pact nations.

In practice, it meant that the Soviet Union would be required to destroy thousands of tanks and other weapons and would lose its traditional huge superiority in conventional weapons in an area stretching from the Atlantic to the Ural mountains.

But soon after it was signed, disagreement arose over Moscow's effort to exclude weapons controlled by its coastal defense, strategic missile and naval infantry forces from ceilings imposed by the treaty. The Bush administration responded by delaying a request for congressional ratification of the treaty.

After Saturday's agreement, the timing of the summit meeting appears to depend on early conclusion of the strategic-arms treaty.

"We're thinking of having the team leaders go to Geneva and resume discussions on a more intensive basis than in recent months," Baker said.

During their 3{-hour meeting Saturday, Baker and Bessmertnykh, who came to Lisbon to witness the signing Friday of an agreement to end Angola's civil war, also discussed the Soviet request for huge economic assistance from the West, including the possibility that Gorbachev might attend the July meeting of the seven industrialized democracies, in London.

"That question is still under discussion," Baker said. "The minister outlined what Mr. Gorbachev had in mind if he attended. We now have a better view of that."

France and Germany have said that they favor inviting the Soviet president to the Group of Seven meeting, but the United States and Britain have, until now, been more cautious, arguing that Moscow should spell out its plans for economic revisions before Western aid is contemplated.

But on Saturday, Baker and Bessmertnykh appeared to have concentrated on reaching agreement on the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty so that the strategic arms reduction talks, or START, can resume and set the stage for an early summit meeting.

Baker refused to provide details on how the two sides had resolved their dispute, noting that the agreement in principal must now be submitted for approval by other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, who were also among the treaty's 22 signers.

But he stressed that their agreement respected "the full integrity and credibility" of the treaty signed in November.

"The overall, regional, and zonal limits established under the treaty will be respected and observed in all respects," he said.

Although the treaty was originally planned as an agreement between the Eastern and Western blocs, the Warsaw Pact was dismantled as a military alliance in April. But since its six members have each been assigned a share of the weapons total permitted to the Warsaw Pact, the arrangement should not be affected by Saturday's understanding.

Standing beside Baker on a podium in the gardens of the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, Bessmertnykh said they had found a "sound, credible, and reliable" solution. He said that the agreement would enable the two sides to turn their attention to the strategic-arms talks and other bilateral issues, but he, too, refused to give details.

One administration official said that the outstanding problem related to armored personnel carriers attached to Soviet naval infantry units. He noted that a solution was found in treaty provisions permitting conversion of those carriers into so-called lookalike carriers that can move fewer troops.

Military experts say that once those lookalike carriers have been converted, NATO will be willing not to consider them as armored personnel carriers to be included in the ceiling established by the treaty. Baker said that Saturday's agreement would be put into writing through an exchange of notifications, a process contemplated by the treaty.