President Reagan on Friday sent his negotiators into arms talks with the Soviet Union with instructions to cut back offensive weapons "so all God's children can grow up without the fear of nuclear war."
Reagan steered clear of any reference to his controversial Strategic Defense Initiative. The Soviets have targeted the $26 billion research program on space-based missile defense systems for elimination at the talks opening Tuesday in Geneva, Switzerland.
"We know our differences with the Soviet Union are great," Reagan in a statement he read before cameras in the White House Roosevelt room. Negotiators Max Kampelman, John Tower and Maynard Glitman stood at his side, while other members of the U.S. delegation, their coats folded over their arms, completed the picture.
When the talks broke down 15 months ago, the United States and the Soviet Union were far apart on how to reduce offensive weapons. They are resuming their discussions with "Star Wars" added to the agenda under a complicated system that could block all progress if the two sides disagree on space weapons.
Reagan said he had asked the three U.S. negotiators "to explore every promising avenue for progress." His instructions for the first round, which may run six to eight weeks, were drafted by Robert C. McFarlane, the White House national security adviser, and approved by Reagan just before the sendoff.
The instructions can be altered after the Soviets set out their opening positions sometime after the negotiations are subdivided into three parts next Thursday. One panel will deal with strategic weapons, a second with intermediate-range missiles based in Europe, and the third with space weapons and research. Kampelman is in overall charge.
"Like Americans everywhere," Reagan said, "I want these negotiations to succeed and will do everything I can to ensure that this happens. I pray that the Soviet leadership is prepared to make the same commitment."
Reagan had the three negotiators in for breakfast. They were joined by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, McFarlane and congressional observers. Because of a physical examination later in the day, the president did not eat.
Afterward, Reagan took Kampelman, Tower and Glitman to the Oval Office for what he called "instructions for the first round of talks"--hinting that U.S. strategy may shift in the weeks ahead.
"We should have no illusions that this will be easy since any venture of this magnitude will take time," the president said of the renewed search for an arms control treaty. "And since the most vital security interests of both sides are at stake, this will clearly be long and difficult."
He said success would depend on "patience, strength and Western unity."
Touching on the principal U.S. goal, Reagan said, "We seek agreement as soon as possible on real and verifiable reductions in American and Soviet offensive nuclear arms."
In past rounds, the United States tried to achieve a 70% reduction in the heavy ground-based missiles that are the core of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.
The administration is expected to seek a more modest cutback this time. And, McFarlane told reporters on Thursday, the U.S. negotiators will be ready to offer tradeoffs in offensive weapons systems "which provide very powerful inducements for an agreement right now."
The U.S. bomber and submarine forces are considered superior, while the Soviets have an edge in heavy ground-based missiles.