As the U.S. arms negotiating team arrived in Geneva for talks on limiting nuclear weapons, President Reagan on Saturday renewed his high-profile campaign for the MX missile by urging Americans to tell Congress to release funds for production of the missile as a "key test of American resolve."
"As I speak to you, our team is in Geneva," Reagan said in his weekly radio broadcast. "I cannot think of a more welcome message to give them than a strong vote of confidence from you the people and the Congress."
The House and Senate each face votes later this month on freeing $1.5 billion already appropriated to be spent in the current fiscal year to build another 21 of the missiles. The MX has been an issue of sharp partisan dispute since the start of Reagan's first term, even though the 10-warhead missile has been under development for more than 10 years, with the approval of every administration.
Democrats have argued that the MX, which would match weapons already in the Soviet arsenal in ability to destroy such military targets as missile silos, is potentially a "first-strike" weapon that would destabilize the nuclear balance between the superpowers.
The Democrats' weekly radio reply to the President, taped a day early in anticipation of Reagan's appeal, was by Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, a long-time MX opponent. Hart denounced the MX as "a weak weapon" because it would be vulnerable to silo-busting heavy missiles, which have been in the Soviet strategic arsenal since the early 1970s. "The MX is a weak weapon, and weak weapons make weak bargaining chips," he said.
Hart also denounced the Administration for bringing forward its plans for 21 more MX missiles just as the Geneva talks are getting under way. "On the issue of ending the arms race, our nation stands united," Hart declared. "But now, just as hope is on the horizon, the Administration is shattering this consensus by seeking additional funds for the MX."
In his own address, Reagan said that it was precisely because the Administration had pressed ahead to modernize the U.S. strategic forces that the Soviets agreed to return to the arms talks they abandoned in late 1983.