Let Leaders Start Toward a New Summit
Last week I walked through Hospital No. 6--a somber, brownstone building in Moscow where a U.S.-Soviet medical team has been struggling to save the lives of 35 of the most acutely affected radiation victims from the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident. In talking with some of the patients, I was able to give them hope, because the best physicians and scientists from our two nations were committed to saving their lives.
While some died and some others invariably will, many more will live--only because people determined to do everything possible saved their fellow human beings in need.
These patients did not care whether it was Russians or Americans, private citizens or government agencies, who were providing their medical care. They knew only that we made every effort to save lives.
The story is now history. Immediately after the Chernobyl accident was known in the West, UCLA physician Robert Peter Gale, chairman of the International Bone Marrow Registry, offered his services to provide bone-marrow transplants to those who would need these life-saving procedures. He knew that he must ask the Soviets directly, for this was a private offer and Moscow had already rejected U.S. government offers of assistance. So he called me. I immediately sent a telegram to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and within 48 hours Gale was on his way to Moscow. Over the next two weeks we marshaled the private resources of the United States and 14 other nations to provide other physicians and much needed medical supplies valued at more than $600,000. Although the Soviets offered to pay for these supplies, I contributed them to the people.
Certainly the Soviets could have survived without all this help. But they accepted a private offer of assistance to help their people because more could be done together than separately. And they knew that this was not political.
Just as 65 years before--when I went to Russia to help treat victims of a typhus epidemic and provide food in the wake of a famine in the Urals, all of which brought me to the attention of Lenin--I was able to respond this time when people were in need.
In 1921 the United States and the then-fledgling Soviet government had no diplomatic relations. Russians were starving to death while Americans, with a bumper harvest, burned their wheat. In 1986 the two governments have diplomatic relations, but a chilled international climate precluded official assistance in the most recent human tragedy.
Clearly we must use every means at our disposal to bring these two superpowers back to the negotiating table at the highest level. Chernobyl shows us that we cannot ignore one another. A nuclear accident in a land 11,000 miles from Los Angeles kept us awake nights worrying about fallout in our homes. Thankfully, there was none here. But what if that reactor accident had been a missile accident and neither side was talking to the other, as is virtually the case now?
We must maintain communication at all levels in any way, public or private. When Gorbachev received Gale and me to thank us, we had the opportunity to discuss this subject. I told him that I thought he and President Reagan must meet this year. There are too many issues at hand to allow the good beginning at their Geneva meeting to melt away. I suggested that mutual consideration of prevention of future Chernobyl-type accidents, and a system for immediate international communications should another ever occur, be the topic of a meeting between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
Gorbachev agreed, saying that he is ready for such a meeting provided the United States indicates its willingness. In my meeting last week with Shultz, I communicated this, and he concurred that the two sides must discuss this framework.
We must not wait. I am a private citizen. I speak for no government. But we can all see from Chernobyl that no one can win a nuclear war. Medical science cannot repair the damage wrought by nuclear science. There can be no successful first strike with nuclear weapons, because the atomic fallout will kill us all.
But instead of negotiating a reduction in those fearsome weapons, both sides build more.
Chernobyl is a window of opportunity. The world sees clearly the need for international cooperation. Fortunately, in President Reagan the United States has one of the most popular and strongest leaders it has enjoyed in its entire history. The Soviets have in Gorbachev a pragmatic man of determination and conviction, a man who understands that his economy can grow only if he is able to spend his national resources on peaceful pursuits rather than on weapons.
So let Shultz and Shevardnadze meet now to discuss the lessons of Chernobyl. And at that meeting let them work out an agenda for areas of mutual cooperation and interest for a summit.
And let President Reagan host General Secretary Gorbachev at Camp David for a summit at Thanksgiving so that on that day Americans and Soviets can give thanks for a new beginning--ensuring that Chernobyl becomes a signpost for peace rather than a harbinger of nuclear holocaust.