Reagan Sees Hope on Arms Control : Feels Assurances to Gorbachev on ‘Star Wars’ May Lead to Progress

Times Washington Bureau Chief

President Reagan said Friday that he hopes for progress toward arms control as a result of his repeated assurances to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev that the United States will not use “Star Wars"--the space-based anti-missile defense research project--for offensive purposes.

In his first interview since his summit with Gorbachev ended in Geneva on Thursday, Reagan conceded that the Soviet leader held fast to his concerns about the system. But the President expressed the hope that the Soviets ultimately would realize that the United States was not pursuing it to develop a first-strike capacity.

Before the summit, Soviet officials had protested that the United States could launch a nuclear attack with impunity if it could develop a space-based shield against retaliatory Soviet missiles. And in a news conference after the summit, Gorbachev continued to insist that arms control negotiations in Geneva could make no progress until the United States abandoned the space defense project.

Soviet Fears and Concerns


But Reagan, in his interview Friday, said he has emphasized to Gorbachev his intention to make the system’s research available to the Soviets. That gesture, he said, should “answer their fears and concerns that we were coming to a militarization of space.”

Administration officials suggested that Gorbachev’s willingness to sign a joint summit statement without a dissenting paragraph about space defense indicated that the Soviets might eventually be willing to deal on arms reduction without demanding that the United States give up its space-based defense project, formally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative.

A senior official, speaking on condition he not be identified, told reporters that Gorbachev’s signature on the document released Thursday was “potentially significant” because the Soviets “came to the summit beating the drums on SDI.”

Reagan said Gorbachev convinced him that he sincerely believes SDI could lead to the development of “offensive nuclear weapons circling the Earth.”


The President, asked to comment about Gorbachev’s statement after the summit that the pursuit of “Star Wars” by the United States would mean that “all restraints” on arms control “will be blown to the wind,” said:

“I told him I hoped they would respond by going forward with their own research and that I felt we should come to an agreement that whenever one of us or both of us could come up with a defensive system, then let’s share it so we could get rid of the nuclear weapons.”

The President, who addressed a joint session of Congress on Thursday night after returning to Washington following a 20-hour-long schedule that included a summit ceremony in Geneva and a briefing of Western allies in Brussels, was bleary-eyed but smiling when he met Friday morning with a group of journalists.

Two other tired-looking but beaming officials who sat beside Reagan during the summit’s plenary sessions--Secretary of State George P. Shultz and White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan--were also made available for interviews as the Administration sought to gain maximum attention for what it considers a major diplomatic triumph by the President.


Reagan, Shultz and Regan all said that the five hours the two superpower leaders spent in one-on-one sessions with only interpreters present were crucial to the personal chemistry they developed and to their plans for two more summits, in Washington next year and in Moscow in 1987.

One-on-One Benefits

The one-on-one encounters, Reagan said, provided “a great measure of the success” of the summit and created the atmosphere that make it possible for the two leaders to discuss such sensitive issues as human rights.

Reagan said they went into the human rights issue “quite deeply” but indicated that it got only passing mention in the joint statement issued at the end of the summit because too much public attention could “run the risk of setting back what might . . . be accomplished.” Political realities, he said, dictate that “to try to push someone in a corner” could prove counterproductive.


During their private sessions, Reagan said, Gorbachev was such a good listener and looked at him so intensely at times that the President got “carried away” and talked so rapidly that the interpreters had trouble keeping up. A couple of times, he said, Gorbachev put his hands up and pointed to the interpreter to make him slow down.

“I just would sort of get going and forget that he wasn’t understanding,” Reagan said, “and I proved that he wasn’t understanding because I told him a couple of jokes, and he never laughed at them.”

Reagan said the decision by the two leaders to visit each other’s capitals in the next two years was the product of one of their tetes-a-tetes. As the President recalled it:

“I invited him this coming year to come to our country . . . for a meeting and he said, ‘I accept.’ And then he says, ‘And I invite you to come to a subsequent meeting in Moscow,’ and I said, ‘I accept.’ And I think when we both went in and told our teams that this was all settled, they almost fell down.”


Sharp Exchanges

Some of the exchanges, Reagan said, were much sharper. The President, confronting Gorbachev with a U.S. finding of 23 Soviet violations of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, said he told the Soviet leader, “These are things that have to be cleared up between us.” He said Gorbachev did not directly reply.

Shultz, who met separately with reporters, disclosed that he was the official behind the two-day news blackout during the Geneva summit. He said he had found a blackout helpful to the diplomatic process when he and former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko met last January, and he suggested a similar measure at the summit.

Reagan agreed, he said, but Soviet officials “sort of danced around the subject” and avoided a decision until Gorbachev arrived in Geneva on Monday, the day before the summit began. Shultz said Gorbachev, whom he described as “strong” and “decisive,” did not hesitate to accept the blackout without consulting with his aides.


Shultz also conducted separate briefings on the summit for senators and House members. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said afterward that he found Shultz’s comments about the “personal chemistry” between Reagan and Gorbachev to be “encouraging.” But Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said his committee would be watching closely for substantive progress toward arms control.

Regan, the third Administration official to meet with reporters, promised that U.S. arms negotiators who are scheduled to resume their talks with the Soviets in Geneva on Jan. 16 “will all be given their instructions now to not haggle as much and to accomplish more and more quickly.

Search for Compromise

“That does not mean that we’re giving in,” he said, “nor do we expect the Soviets to give in from their position, but we’ll try to . . . see if there are places where compromise can be arrived at in a more orderly manner and in a faster manner.”


But the summit was most valuable, Regan said, as a means of giving the leaders of the world’s superpowers an understanding that they could work together.

Regan, though declaring, “I’m not here as a shill,” went out of his way to praise the President’s performance in the private sessions with Gorbachev.

“The thing that struck me the most,” Regan said, “was that this movie actor, this President who had to have his staff prop him up, the man who couldn’t do anything without a script, was able to take on this dynamic personality, the head of the Soviet Union, the man coming into power, and do it one-on-one not once but six separate times for a total of almost five hours, and hold his own, not give away the shop, not eat crow.”