President Reagan declared Thursday that it is "high time" for a U.S.-Soviet summit meeting and pledged not to deploy new U.S. strategic weapons in coming months in a way that might jeopardize chances for success at the arms control talks in Geneva.
Discussing the scheduled deployment of a new Trident submarine that could push the U.S. nuclear arsenal into violation of the second strategic arms limitation treaty, Reagan said: "I can assure you we're not going to do anything that's going to undercut the negotiations that are going on (in Geneva). We're hopeful that for the first time we really have an opportunity to get a reduction of missiles."
While stopping short of a pledge to cut back U.S. strategic weapons to stay within the SALT II agreement, the President appeared to hold out to Moscow the possibility of such a cutback if there is progress in Geneva.
Soviet Violations Cited
Reagan's expression of restraint, which came during his third news conference since the beginning of his second term in January, contrasted with recent calls by some conservatives for the United States to meet alleged Soviet violations of SALT II agreements by pushing this country's own strategic forces above the limits.
Discussing his invitation to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev for a summit meeting, Reagan said he believes there is a "good chance" such a meeting will take place. Reagan is the first American President since World War II who has not met with his Soviet counterpart.
He said his recent invitation to Gorbachev, contained in a letter hand-delivered by Vice President George Bush last week when he attended the funeral of Soviet President Konstantin U. Chernenko in Moscow, "was extended for whenever he found it convenient."
Although Gorbachev so far has not replied to the invitation, Reagan said he does not feel he has been rebuffed and pointed out that the new Kremlin leader has been in office only a short time.
The decision on what to do about the SALT II ceiling must be made sometime next fall, when the submarine Alaska, equipped with 24 Trident ballistic missiles, is scheduled to begin sea trials.
Under SALT II, which has never been ratified by the Senate but which has been honored voluntarily by the United States since it was negotiated under President Jimmy Carter, both this country and the Soviet Union are limited to 1,200 multi-warhead missiles.
The Alaska's missiles would push the United States over that limit, unless other missiles were retired. As he has done before, Reagan indicated Thursday that he is deferring a decision on what course to pursue.
But his comments about not jeopardizing the Geneva talks suggested that, despite U.S. charges that the Soviets have violated arms control agreements, he will show restraint if the arms talks remain on track.
No Need to Intervene
On other issues, Reagan:
--Said there is no need for the federal government to intervene in the crisis involving 71 privately insured savings and loan institutions in Ohio.
--Refused to compromise on his proposed defense buildup or to accept cuts in Social Security benefits in the interest of trimming budget deficits.
--Insisted he foresees no direct U.S. role in Mideast peace negotiations, despite increasing calls from Arab leaders for a more active American role.
The President took issue with the suggestion that the United States is following a policy of "disengagement" from Mideast diplomacy and praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for "pushing ahead" with renewed peace efforts.
But he said he sees no direct U.S. role in any Mideast peace talks, at least "not the direct role in sitting at the table and negotiating. . . . That's none of our business." Direct negotiations, Reagan said, must be conducted "between the Arab states and Israel."
The President said the United States will stick to its refusal to deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization unless the PLO affirms Israel's right to exist within agreed-on borders. But, he said, the United States would find other representatives of the Palestinian people welcome at negotiations.
While expressing enthusiasm for a summit, Reagan warned that the Soviets have been deploying more than 600 missiles and "targeting them upon the United States" during the last decade while the United States has been debating whether to build and deploy MX missiles.
Commends MX Vote
The President commended the Senate for its vote endorsing production of 21 more MX missiles and said "now is the testing time" for the House of Representatives, which is to vote on the controversial issue next week.
Reagan, who has lobbied heavily for the missile and is expected to win the House vote, declared that no request by an American President for a major strategic system deemed vital to the national security has ever been denied by Congress.
It was this tradition of bipartisan unity on national defense, he said, that brought the Soviets back to the arms negotiations at Geneva. "Unless that tradition is maintained next week in the House," he added, "there is little prospect of success at Geneva."
Reagan expressed regret at the shooting by Israeli forces Thursday of two Lebanese cameramen and a driver working for CBS News, two of whom were killed. He declined, however, to criticize the Israeli government for allowing the incident to occur, saying it was "not a deliberate killing."
"This is one of the things that happens in this kind of warfare," he said.
Reagan characterized as "tragic" the deaths of 17 unarmed blacks shot and killed by South African security troops Thursday during a protest march by 3,000 to 4,000 demonstrators near the industrial center of Port Elizabeth. Although it was one of the bloodiest racial confrontations in 25 years, Reagan cautioned that the white supremacist government was not solely to blame and suggested agitators were behind much of the growing civil unrest in the country.
Some Looking for Trouble
"There has been increasing violence, and there is an element in South Africa that does not want a peaceful settlement of this, who want a violent settlement, who want trouble in the streets and that's what's going on," the President said.
Reagan denied reports that his Administration has seriously considered recognizing the Honduras-based Nicaraguan rebels as a government-in-exile. But he charged that opponents of his request for renewed CIA aid to the contras with abandoning a basic American tradition of helping allies in need.
Turning to the banking crisis in Ohio, Reagan assured his prime-time television audience that "this is not a major threat to the banking system."
Limited to Ohio
The problem, Reagan said, "is limited to Ohio," which he noted is one of a handful of states that permit private or state insuring of saving institutions rather than federal guarantees.
In response to a question about efforts to reduce massive federal budget deficits, Reagan said he is willing to meet with Republican Senate leaders to review the Senate Budget Committee's proposed 1986 budget package and attempt to reach compromises.
He chided his critics, many of them members of his own party, for using "cuts in defense to augment spending in domestic affairs."
In response to questions, Reagan tossed a few gentle barbs at the American news media's alleged political biases. Asked about proposals by conservative groups to take over the CBS television network, which they have long accused of a liberal slant, Reagan joked: "I don't have any comments on that. I just turn it on, look, and every once in a while scream a little."
He later chided the media for straying from "the old rules when I took journalism--and I did, actually--(when) you were supposed to . . . have no opinions of your own."
But he declined to side with Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), architect of the CBS takeover campaign, who has charged that the American press has a "smug contempt for American values and principles."
"I won't even get into it," he said. "And I guess I've done as much criticizing as anyone."