Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze on Friday delivered to President Reagan a long letter from Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev that put forth a new Soviet proposal for reducing the superpowers’ nuclear arsenals.
Reagan and Shevardnadze then spent two hours in discussions, followed by a working lunch that lasted another hour.
Although it had been widely reported that the Kremlin would suggest a 40% cut in the levels of offensive missiles and nuclear warheads, neither U.S. nor Soviet officials would reveal any details of the message or the long-anticipated conversation between Shevardnadze and Reagan.
‘An Important Part’
Secretary of State George P. Shultz called the new Soviet position a “counterproposal” to previous U.S. arms reduction offers and refused to characterize it beyond saying that it is different from previous Soviet statements. It is “obviously an important part” of the preparation for the upcoming Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Geneva, Shultz said.
“I think the right thing to happen now is for their counterproposal to be placed on the table in Geneva and for it to be discussed there, in the privacy of that negotiating forum,” he said. “If we are really going to make progress in these negotiations, they ought to be conducted there, and by the negotiators.”
Shultz indicated that Reagan had restated his adamant refusal to yield on the United States’ so-called “Star Wars” space defense research--apparently leaving the two sides deadlocked. The Soviets have insisted upon linking offensive and defensive weapons programs in any strategic arms pact, while Reagan refuses to trade “Star Wars” for offensive missile cuts by Moscow.
The new Soviet proposal is expected to be formally presented to U.S. arms negotiators in Geneva next week. Two days of plenary sessions have been scheduled to bring together U.S. and Soviet representatives from the three separate sets of nuclear and space weapons talks now in session there.
Gorbachev’s letter was handed to the President at the meeting in the White House Oval Office.
After presenting it, Shevardnadze outlined its contents, but Shultz said it still had not been analyzed in detail because it was written in Russian and was yet to be translated. But on the basis of Shevardnadze’s remarks, Shultz said, Reagan welcomed the Soviet leader’s message and hoped that it would “lead to a process of genuine negotiation.”
The meeting had been characterized by the White House as one of a series of steps to carefully prepare for the Reagan-Gorbachev talks Nov. 19-20.
The President, Shultz said, “had an opportunity to say to Mr. Gorbachev through his foreign minister how he views our relationship and the prospects for it and the prospects for that meeting--and that’s an important result, as far as we’re concerned.”
Shultz described the talks as “very, very straightforward,” and the Soviets later characterized them as “businesslike,” both phrases indicating that the meeting had been cool and correct.
The talks also covered a number of other topics expected to be discussed in Geneva, Shultz said, but apparently focused on arms control.
Problems of Verification
Although he would not give details, Shultz acknowledged there had been a discussion of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a Soviet radar station that the United States contends violates that treaty, and the problems of verifying arms agreements.
A senior Administration official who spoke to reporters before the meeting suggested Reagan wanted to begin with a philosophical discussion of strategic deterrence and the roles of offensive and defense weapons, and to build toward a specific discussion of proposals for formal agreement.
The official suggested that the complexity of arms control topics and the rapidly approaching date for the summit made it highly unlikely that a concrete agreement could emerge from the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting.
Asked about the outlook after the White House session with Shevardnadze, Shultz said the United States does not “believe in getting put in the position where, because of the deadline of a meeting, we are tempted to agree to something that we might think is unwise.” But, he promised, “we’ll push the negotiations as hard as we can.”
Reagan and Shevardnadze each spoke from prepared notes in making their opening remarks, then moved into conversational give-and-take for the remainder of the session, Shultz said. Toward the end, Reagan talked privately with the Soviet minister for about 15 minutes before the party moved on to the working luncheon.
Shultz, Shevardnadze Confer
On Friday afternoon, Shultz and Shevardnadze, who met for 4 1/2 hours Wednesday at the United Nations, also talked for about two hours in an eighth-floor conference room at the State Department. They settled down to work after Shultz escorted the Soviet visitor, on his first visit to Washington, to a balcony, where he pointed out the Washington and Jefferson memorials.
At a news conference, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir B. Lomeiko described the message to Reagan as an “important and concrete proposal,” but refused to say whether it entailed deep reductions in offensive missile forces.
“From an ethical standpoint,” he said, “it is not very appropriate to disclose the content of a message from one leader to another.”
He continued: “What we have here is a personal letter--I stress, a personal letter--from the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, to President Ronald Reagan.”
Shultz told reporters, “We believe that the chances of getting somewhere in arms control are maximized if we don’t have a lot of public things to say about it and let the negotiators handle it in Geneva.”
According to both sides, the arms talks have made little, if any, progress since they resumed last March following the Soviets’ walkout over the deployment of intermediate-range U.S. missiles in Europe.