January 14, 1988
Today marks the opening in Geneva of round nine of the nuclear and space talks between the United States and the Soviet Union. Our objective in these talks remains unchanged -- achievement of equitable and effectively verifiable arms reduction agreements with the Soviet Union, which lessen the risk of war and make the world safer.
Last month here in Washington, General Secretary Gorbachev and I signed the treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF). This treaty is truly historic. For the first time, an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles will be eliminated. Through this treaty, we and our NATO allies achieve the goal we set forth in 1979: elimination of the threat posed to our security by Soviet INF missiles.
Under this agreement, the Soviets are required to eliminate deployed INF missile systems capable of carrying almost four times as many nuclear warheads as the deployed systems we will eliminate. Furthermore, the INF treaty provides for the most stringent verification in the history of arms control. The asymmetrical reductions to achieve an equal U.S.-Soviet level and the comprehensive verification provisions of the INF treaty provide important precedents for future arms reduction agreements. The INF treaty is in the security interests of the United States and our allies.
The treaty now goes to the Senate for its advice and consent as to ratification. I welcome the debate the Senate will hold, and I hope the Senate will move expeditiously in carrying out its important constitutional role. The INF treaty is not, however, an end in itself. It is part of our overall strategy for strengthening peace and ensuring strategic stability. Our focus now will be on achieving 50-percent reductions in U.S. and Soviet strategic offensive nuclear arsenals. We particularly seek to reduce the most destabilizing nuclear arms: fast-flying ballistic missiles, especially heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple warheads.
Our negotiators returned to Geneva with my instructions to expedite work on a joint draft treaty which meets these objectives. This draft START treaty reflects progress already achieved in Geneva and the areas of agreement that General Secretary Gorbachev and I reached during our meetings in 1985 and 1986. This includes a ceiling of 6,000 warheads on 1,600 delivery vehicles for each side, a ceiling for heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles and their warheads, and counting rules for heavy bombers and their armament. During our meetings in Washington last month, the General Secretary and I made further progress. We reached agreement on a sublimit of 4,900 for the total number of ballistic missile warheads, a counting rule for existing ballistic missiles, and guidelines for effective verification of the treaty.
Despite the progress we have made, important differences remain, including such issues as mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, sea-launched cruise missiles, and the details of effective verification. A START agreement can be reached this year if the Soviets return to Geneva ready to apply themselves with the same seriousness as the United States. The United States seeks a sound agreement, and we will not negotiate against arbitrary deadlines. It remains my operating principle that we would rather have no agreement than accept a bad one.
Our negotiators will also continue work at Geneva on strategic defense issues. In accordance with my agreement with General Secretary Gorbachev last month, I have instructed our negotiators to work out with the Soviets a separate new treaty calling for observing for a specified period of time the ABM treaty, as signed in 1972, while both countries conduct research, development, and testing as required, which are permitted by the ABM treaty. After this period, and unless otherwise agreed, both countries will be free to choose their own course of action.
During our meetings last month, I made clear to General Secretary Gorbachev my firm commitment to move forward with our Strategic Defense Initiative. I believe that he understands our insistence on investigating fully the feasibility of strategic defenses, especially since, as he acknowledged, the Soviet Union itself has long been conducting its own program in this vital area. SDI offers the best hope of a safer world, one in which Western security would rely less on the threat of retaliation and increasingly on defenses, which threaten no one. SDI is the cornerstone of our security strategy for the 1990's and beyond. SDI is not a bargaining chip but our path to a more secure future.
Our negotiating team -- led by Ambassadors Kampelman, Cooper, and Hanmer -- returns to Geneva fully prepared to make progress on the difficult issues remaining in both offensive reductions and strategic defense.