President Reagan today indicated a new willingness to compromise on the deployment of his "Star Wars" system of space-based defense in return for an agreement with the Soviets for deep reductions in long-range offensive nuclear weapons.
In an Oval Office interview with The Times, Reagan was asked if he could accept the principle of trading a "Star Wars" compromise for the sorts of reductions he has long said he favors in offensive missiles.
"Yes," he replied, "but don't pin me down on this because, as I say, we're still studying this."
Reagan later said he would not accept constraints on research designed to establish the feasibility of a space-based defensive system. But as for deployment, he said he would not comment because he said he needed to retain some bargaining leverage at the U.S.-Soviet arms control talks in Geneva.
The Soviets' latest offer at the arms talks would combine reductions of about a third in each side's long-range offensive weapons with a 15-year extension of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would forbid the deployment of "Star Wars."
The President said he hoped that he and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev would be able to "shortcut" the drawn-out negotiating process by agreeing at their next summit meeting to a framework for arms reductions. The negotiators, he said, could then "work out the details of what we agreed to say in principle."
Reagan said he hoped to meet with Gorbachev in the United States this year after the Nov. 4 election. "I'm waiting to see if he has a particular date that he could suggest," he said.
Looks Physically Fit
The President, who had two non-cancerous polyps removed from his colon Friday, appeared hearty during the 30-minute interview. He remarked that the doctor who performed the CAT-scan in Friday's physical exam told him that he had the inner organs of a man 25 years younger than he.
Reagan refused to declare the 1979 SALT II arms limitation treaty dead, even though he has announced his intention later this year to deploy more B-52 bombers equipped with cruise missiles than the unratified treaty would permit.
"I just am reluctant to come out with some of the declarations that many of you want to hear, either way, because in a way you commit yourself in advance to things that may become issues in a negotiation," he said. But he insisted that he would not continue to "unilaterally" observe the treaty if the Soviets continue to violate it.
Silent on S. Africa
On other subjects, the President:
--Declined to condemn the South African government's latest state of emergency and listed a variety of steps already taken by President Pieter W. Botha to increase the rights of blacks.
--Insisted that his Administration is doing everything in its power to combat AIDS, the deadly disease that suppresses the immune system, even though the Public Health Service has said that 270,000 Americans will be dead or dying from it by 1991.
--Said he had not asked federal appeals Judge Antonin Scalia where he stood on abortion before appointing him to the Supreme Court last week. He said he expected Scalia to interpret the law rather than to make it.