First of NATO’s Cruise Missile Units Deactivated
MOLESWORTH, England (AP) _ The last NATO base to receive U.S. cruise missiles was the first to be deactivated Monday under the terms of the superpowers’ arms control treaty.
In a short ceremony at the Molesworth base, 70 miles north of London, members of the U.S. Air Force 303rd Tactical Mission wing were advised: ″Mission complete.″
Reporters and photographers, including several from the Soviet news media, were then permitted to tour the four empty bunkers that until last year housed 16 operational and two spare cruise missiles.
″To me, this is a milestone in the implementation of the INF treaty,″ said Maj. Gen. Marcus Anderson, commander of the 3rd Air Force, referring to the arms control agreement signed by former President Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The treaty, signed in December 1987, calls for the elimination by 1991 of 2,700 Soviet and U.S. land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles - those with ranges of 300 to 3,000 miles.
″This was the first operational cruise missile unit to be inactivated,″ Anderson said. ″The treaty is being implemented in the timetable that was presented.″
Anderson said the removal of the cruise missiles represented to him ″the fact that we can successfully negotiate treaties for arms reduction.″
Molesworth was one two bases in Britain designated in 1980 to receive a total of 160 U.S. cruise missiles, although only 16 of its planned 64 operational missiles had arrived before the treaty was signed.
The other base, Greenham Common, 50 miles west of London, houses 96 missiles, which are scheduled to begin leaving ″towards the end of this year,″ said British Defense Ministry spokesman Martin Helm. The base will be deactivated at an unspecified time before 1991, Helm said.
The missiles and their launchers left Molesworth between September and November last year for Davis Montah Base in Tucson, Ariz., to be destroyed under the watch of Soviet inspectors.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament welcomed the removal of cruise missiles from Molesworth, said spokeswoman Sheena Philips. ″But we remain concerned about NATO’s plans to bring in new generations″ of nuclear weapons.
Spray-painted in big red letters on a highway overpass near the base is the slogan ″What about the nuclear warheads?″
The missile warheads, which are not covered by the treaty, remain on site, although U.S. officials have said they will be returned to the United States eventually.
Molesworth was not closed, since 160 of the its 800 American airmen and women are waiting to be reassigned. And, under the treaty, Soviet inspectors have the right to inspect the base until 2001 to ensure the missiles have not returned.
Molesworth, a Royal Air Force base, is expected to remain in American hands, although the British, American and NATO officials responsible for the decision have not announced how it will be used. The 600-acre site, a World War II bomber base, was renovated to house cruise missiles at a cost of $79 million.
The first cruise missiles arrived in Europe in 1983 and were deployed at Greenham Common. The Molesworth missiles were the last to be deployed, in November 1987.
The Soviets began removing some of their SS-20 missiles targeted at Western Europe in February 1988. The first American missiles, nine Pershing 2s, were removed Sept. 1, 1988, from a base in West Germany.
The last of the 16 operational and four spare cruise missiles stored in Belgium left Dec. 13, making it the first Western country to have all the required weapons withdrawn under the U.S.-Soviet treaty.
NATO was to have deployed 572 cruise and Pershing 2 missiles in five European countries.
Officials at NATO, at the U.S. Air Force’s British and its European headquarters, and at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe, were unable Monday to say how many had so far been removed.