WASHINGTON -- The White House said yesterday that it was unlikely that a superpower summit would be held before late July because of the "hard negotiating" required to complete the long-range nuclear arms treaty it wants as the centerpiece.
"We're talking about as many as 100 outstanding points still to be resolved. We're talking about two or three basic philosophical issues that are major and will require discussion," presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, in what other officials said was an effort to reduce expectations of an imminent summit.
Both sides' negotiators "have taken a look and realized that there are difficult problems, that it's going to take a little more time," Mr. Fitzwater said.
Until last week, administration officials had hoped that a Moscow summit could occur June 25-27.
In the euphoria that followed the settlement of lingering disputes over a conventional arms treaty, the issues remaining in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks were described as technical and surmountable.
Despite a high-level push on both sides, officials concede that the issues are tough to crack and that hopes of wrapping up the treaty in a few weeks are unrealistic. One official said that even if the United States yielded to the Soviets on every remaining issue, the treaty could not be completed in that time.
Another official said it would take nearly a week to get started with the new team of negotiators that Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh said Friday should be added to the effort.
The revised timing means that the Moscow summit won't take place until after the mid-July meeting in London of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies. Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev will be invited to speak to the G-7 at the end of the meeting and is expected to lay out Soviet economic reform plans in the hope of securing major Western help.
Mr. Bush would prefer to have the START treaty and the Moscow summit behind him before the London session, where much of the focus will be on the Soviet Union's new economic relationship with the West.
Although the White House had indicated Mr. Bush may be willing to go to Moscow without a START agreement, that now appears unlikely. "There's a feeling that it's better to be sure you have something in your pocket when you go there" so the summit meeting does not appear to be unproductive or careen out of control, an administration official said.
Scheduling the meeting beyond the end of July and into the fall is a possibility, one administration official said.
Remaining issues include "downloading" provisions under which the two powers could reduce the number of warheads on existing missiles and be allowed to put them on new ones; highly technical provisions to ban denial of missile flight-test information; the definition of what constitutes a "new type" of strategic ballistic missile; the size of missile containers subject to inspection at production sites; and verification of heavy bombers.
By "philosophical issues," Mr. Fitzwater meant those that "rise above the merely technical," an official said. Chief among these is probably "downloading." In proposing the idea, the United States opened a loophole that could allow the Soviets to raise their number of missiles substantially.
Jack Mendelsohn, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, said that it was unrealistic to expect that the treaty could be completed in two weeks but that "the two sides have agreed to much more complicated provisions than those which are outstanding" during nine years of talks.