Gorbachev Urges Europe Troop Cutback : Vows That Soviets Would Never Launch First Strike on West
Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev proposed Friday that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact countries reduce their conventional forces substantially “from the Atlantic to the Urals.”
Gorbachev, addressing the East German Communist Party congress in East Berlin, said the Soviet Union would never attack West European forces first. He said this should allay Western fears that if there is a ban on nuclear testing the West could still be overwhelmed by Soviet conventional forces.
“Never, under no circumstances, will our country begin military actions against Western Europe unless we and our allies become the targets of an attack by NATO,” he told the 2,000 delegates.
Says Plan Is New
He described his proposal as a new initiative, and he said he hopes it “will allow the untying of the knot which for so many years has been growing tighter at the Vienna talks.” The East-West talks in Vienna on conventional arms reduction have been going on for 13 years.
Gorbachev said he was proposing a “significant reduction” of all the various military components of the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. Units included in the reduction of conventional forces would be disbanded, he said, and their weapons either destroyed or stored in the country of origin.
But nowhere in his half-hour address did Gorbachev spell out any specifics. Thus the first reaction by Western observers was that the proposal was too vague to warrant any comment.
Western diplomats said that in East-West talks on mutual and balanced force reductions the Soviet negotiators have always insisted on excluding their troops in East Europe.
In Washington, the State Department issued a statement saying the United States would study Gorbachev’s statement and “would welcome any clarification.”
The statement said it was not clear whether the Soviet leader was proposing a new set of negotiations or an expansion of the talks already under way.
The State Department added that current Western proposals at Vienna provide an excellent basis for progress and said Moscow had responded with “rehashed, old, unacceptable positions.”
No Precise Proposal
Gorbachev also called for the reduction of tactical nuclear arms in East and West Europe, but again he made no precise proposal.
He criticized again the U.S. raid on Libya. “The United States thought it could teach a lesson,” he said, “but it only proved the bankruptcy of U.S. policy in the region. U.S.-Soviet relations and East-West dialogue in general cannot develop independent of world developments.”
He said the United States is using terrorism as a pretext for its aggressive policies in the Middle East.
In response to the raid, the Soviet Union has already called off talks scheduled for mid-May between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze. That meeting was supposed to work out the details of a Soviet-American summit.
Gorbachev said the area he has in mind for reducing conventional forces “must obviously be the territory of all Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals.”
Verification at Issue
He restated the offer he made three months ago to allow on-site inspection “if necessary,” as well as satellite surveillance to verify compliance with any agreement. Satisfactory verification of troop and armament reductions has been one of the obstacles to progress in the Vienna talks.
Gorbachev said it would be wrong to accept the Western scenario that has masses of Warsaw Pact forces ready to push into West Europe in the absence of a tactical nuclear deterrent.
“I would like from here, the capital of the Socialist GDR (East Germany), to make an appeal to all people of Western Europe: don’t believe inventions about the aggressiveness of the Soviet Union.”
He attacked West Germany for its decision to take part in the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, the “Star Wars” space-based missile program.
“In Western Europe,” he said, “there is no other country that supports so eagerly the United States’ militaristic SDI program.”
He made no mention of Britain’s support for the American project.