‘Star Wars’ No Bargaining Chip, Rowny Insists

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan’s space-based Strategic Defense Initiative is not “a bargaining chip” at the Geneva arms control talks with the Soviet Union, Reagan’s arms control adviser, Edward L. Rowny, said Thursday.

However, Rowny said that if current research proves that the program is feasible, deployment of the missile defense will be discussed “with our allies and we will negotiate it with the Soviet Union.”

Meanwhile, Air Force Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson, director of the Defense Department’s SDI Office, said congressional budget cuts for the first time will cause delays in research and force the Defense Department to delay decisions, previously planned for the early 1990s, on whether to proceed with SDI development.

Rowny took issue with the way that The Times interpreted remarks Reagan made in an interview on Monday. In that interview, the President indicated he could agree in principle with a Soviet proposal calling for deep reductions in offensive weapons coupled with restraints on deploying SDI, colloquially known as “Star Wars.”


Rowny, reading a prepared statement at a breakfast meeting with reporters, said, “On SDI as a bargaining chip, I can tell you quite definitely that the article got it wrong this week.” Later, he added, “We want to go ahead with our research program.”

In the interview, Reagan expressed his determination to proceed with “Star Wars” research. Asked specifically whether SDI deployment--as opposed to research and development--was a negotiating item, he replied: “That’s right. Yes.”

Rowny, in a reference to the text of the President’s remarks, said: “His words are OK. They speak for themselves.”

He said, however, that if the subject of research is not negotiable and deployment is, the stages of testing and development are “in-betweens.” And he said he does not think that the “Star Wars” program would be a proper topic of discussion at a U.S.-Soviet summit, although it has been a clear concern of the Soviet Union.


The presidential adviser also said the prospects for a summit between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev this year are “much better than 50-50.”

Need for Backing

Clearly upbeat as the fifth round of Geneva talks aimed at reducing long-range, medium-range and space-based weapons drew to a close, Rowny said the likelihood that a summit would be held was enhanced by the Soviet leader’s need to win “some backing with the West.”

“The Soviets are trying to make this an arms control summit,” he said, and Reagan would prefer to expand it to cover a variety of East-West topics, human rights and U.S.-Soviet relations.


Abrahamson, the head of the “Star Wars” program, said at a Pentagon news conference that the cuts proposed by congressional committees in Reagan’s $4.8-billion request for the coming fiscal year would impose “very substantial delays” of a year or more in the process of deciding whether to proceed with development of the space-based system.

The House Armed Services Committee has recommended a $3.4-billion budget, and the Senate Armed Services Committee proposed $3.6 billion. The full Senate and the House have not acted on the recommendations. The appropriation for program in the current year is $2.75 billion.

In the past, Abrahamson said, he has been able to minimize the impact of smaller cuts by limiting multiple research efforts that follow “parallel” paths. But the cuts now under consideration would force him to eliminate funds for lower-priority projects and could drive “some of the best people” from the program, he said.

Besides, he said, “the Russians haven’t slowed” their work on strategic defense.


Abrahamson responded to criticism raised by Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and William S. Cohen (R-Me.), whose views often sway other senators on arms issues. They have said that the program’s goals are “vague,” but Abrahamson said there has been no change from the original target: “Stopping a nuclear ballistic missile in flight.”