Rare Exchange Today : Reagan to Be Interviewed by Soviet Media

Times Staff Writer

In what the White House termed “a unique and historic opportunity,” President Reagan will be questioned by four Soviet journalists in the Oval Office today, the first such presidential interview since John F. Kennedy sat down with an Izvestia editor in 1961.

The move is still another signal that Reagan hopes to counter the favorable impression that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev has made on world opinion in advance of their summit meeting next month in Geneva.

“We hope it is a sign of a new and more open information policy on the part of the Soviet Union,” White House spokesman Larry Speakes said.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Reagan said the U.S. and Soviet systems are “so diametrically opposed” that, he was told, the Russian language does not have a word for freedom. But Reagan’s statement was immediately contradicted by the White House correspondent for Tass, who said the Russian word svoboda means freedom.


At U.S. Initiative

It was White House spokesman Edward P. Djerejian who first approached the Soviets with a letter on Sept. 27 requesting an interview “in the interest of increased mutual understanding.”

After almost a month of delicate maneuvering with Washington representatives of the Soviet news agency Tass, plans for the interview were made final Oct. 16.

“It’s not easy to negotiate anything like that with the Soviets,” a White House official said, adding, “We’re happy with it.”


The Administration is still lobbying Moscow to grant Reagan television time for “people-to-people contact” while he is in Geneva for the Nov. 19-20 summit. A formal request was made months ago by Charles Z. Wick, head of the U.S. Information Agency.

Precedents for Contact

Administration aides pointed out that there are precedents for such a speech: President Nixon was allowed to address the Soviet public during his 1972 visit to Moscow. Also, a speech by Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev was broadcast live on the American networks during his visit to the United States the following year.

White House officials are also exploring the possibility of a radio address to the Soviet Union by Reagan during his stay in Geneva.


Today’s half-hour interview will be with four veteran Soviet journalists--Vsevolod Ovchinnikov of the Communist Party daily newspaper Pravda; Stanislav Kondrashov of the government paper Izvestia; Gennady Shishkin, first deputy director general of the Soviet news agency Tass, and Genrikh Borovik of the Novosti news feature agency.

It will be made public in the United States on Sunday, after it appears in the Soviet media. Speakes said the Administration has no guarantees that Reagan’s remarks will be carried in full by these four main Soviet media outlets.

But he appeared unconcerned that Reagan might be short-changed in the pre-summit propaganda war. “We think that a sufficient amount of the interview will be carried,” he said. “We have no reservations.”

‘Eliminate the Paranoia’


Reagan, in his BBC interview, said his primary objective at Geneva summit will be to “eliminate some of the paranoia . . . the suspicion that keeps our two countries at odds with each other.”

In line with Administration attempts to play down arms control as the focus of the meeting, Reagan said he sees a reduction in arms “as a result, not a cause.” The President added:

“If we can reduce those suspicions between our two countries, the reduction of arms will easily follow because we will have reduced the feeling that we need them.”

Reagan spent much of the interview outlining his hopes for the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars.” The concept is expected to be the major obstacle in Geneva to reaching any kind of arms accord.


Reagan also reiterated his willingness to share “Star Wars” technology with the Soviets once a workable system is developed by U.S. scientists. As the BBC interviewer questioned him about “this idealistic world of yours,” Reagan conceded that a workable system may be years away.

Impressions of Gorbachev

Asked for his impressions of Gorbachev, whom Reagan has not met, the President said:

“He seems to have shown more of an interest in the people--the man in the street--than other Soviet leaders have. He has expressed great concern about the economic problems and the improvements that he feels that should be made there. And he is younger and more energetic than some of the more recent leaders have been.”


Administration officials said that Reagan’s chief hope for progress in Geneva is based on a judgment that the Soviet Union is in an economic tailspin and will be looking for ways to ease the economic pressure through arms control limitation, lessened world tension and trade agreements.

“I’m optimistic by nature,” Reagan told the BBC. “I have to be optimistic that he (Gorbachev) is looking at the entire picture.”