Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., on Saturday said the new U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms reduction treaty will cost the taxpayers billions of dollars, contradicting a congressional report that said the pact would save money.

Helms, a leading opponent of the treaty, which would eliminate the two superpowers' medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe, said the United States would have to strengthen its conventional forces to counterbalance Soviet forces in Warsaw Pact nations.Thus, he estimated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty would cost taxpayers between $258 billion and $326 billion over the 13-year life of the pact.

"Most Americans are unaware of the price tag on this treaty because the administration, particularly the Department of Defense, has gone out of its way to cover up the taxpayer expense," Helms said in a statement accompanying a draft of a report by the Republican staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Helms, the ranking minority member of the committee, contradicts a report, released April 6 by the General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog agency. It said the treaty would save about $1.7 billion through the fall of 1995.

The GAO said the savings will come because the Pentagon will no longer need to maintain its Pershing and ground-launched cruise missile force in Western Europe. It said money will also be saved on associated costs for military personnel, procurement and construction of housing for military family members.

However, Helms' committee report, using the GAO data and other information from the Congressional Budget Office and the Army, re-evaluated the costs and savings associated with the treaty.

Department of Defense "end-strengths will remain the same, or even increase, since compensating steps will have to be taken to repair NATO defenses in Europe once the INF systems have been eliminated," the Republican report said.

And, Helms said even if the United States does not boost its conventional forces in Europe, "the treaty would still cost at least $36.6 billion" to scrap missiles, to guard against Soviet cheating and to keep track of Soviet personnel assigned to monitor treaty compliance.

Helms said the Soviets will have costs too but said, "in their slave-labor economy, their expense will be insignificant when compared with ours."

The treaty was endorsed last month in lopsided votes by both the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and awaits a vote in the full Senate.