As the U.S. moved toward agreement with the Soviet Union on eliminating medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) described Democrats as "distressed" Wednesday that the Reagan Administration had not reached out for broader, bolder arms controls.
Kennedy spoke before 750 community leaders at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and delivered a calm condemnation of President Reagan--describing him as a chief executive way out of step with the foreign policy traditions of a generation of U.S. Presidents.
"I think all of us have some degree of hope with the announcements of the last several hours," Kennedy said. "But I think, quite frankly, we are distressed there were no agreements on ICBMs, there were no agreements with regards to Star Wars, there was no agreement with regard to a comprehensive test ban.
View of Prospects
"I think you could sign a comprehensive test ban treaty with the Soviet Union this afternoon," he added.
Kennedy's remarks about progress on medium-range missile talks in Moscow came in response to a question from the luncheon audience. This followed a speech in which Kennedy called on his 25 years in the Senate and his ranking as sixth in seniority to praise the foreign policy progress of modern Presidents of both parties, right up to, but not including, Reagan.
For Reagan, Kennedy had only scorn.
On Central America:
"It mocks the meaning of liberty to say that the contras are freedom fighters," Kennedy said. Reagan uses "freedom fighter" to describe the rebels whom the United States now officially and financially supports in their fight against the Marxist government of Nicaragua.
"In fact, they are led by outcasts and renegades from the old (deposed strongman Anastasio) Somoza regime. The contras have less support in Nicaragua than they do in the United States. It makes no more sense for us to impose the contras on Nicaragua than to re-impose Marcos on the Philippines."
Temptation to Reagan
Kennedy warned that Reagan will find it a "temptation" to engage in the battlefield directly.
"In my view one of the most urgent tasks before Congress is to terminate U.S. support for the contras, before the Reagan Administration yields to the temptation, in the waning months in office, to send U.S. troops to achieve the goal it cannot gain by sending U.S. military aid alone."
On nuclear arms control:
"Based on the record, this has been the most anti-arms control Administration since the nuclear age began. History may well record that President Reagan's worst foreign policy mistake was not his decision to delegate Iran to Oliver North, but to delegate arms control to Richard Perle." He referred to Richard N. Perle, the outgoing assistant secretary of defense who has opposed nearly all arms accord proposals with the Soviets.
Kennedy announced he will join Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) next week in introducing legislation to cut off funds for most future U.S. nuclear weapons tests. Kennedy said the proposal would permit small yield underground tests of less than one kiloton to continue uncontrolled, and permit each country one annual large nuclear test to "to ensure reliability of its stockpile."
'Most Important Step'
"A ban on nuclear tests may be the single most important step we can take to halt the nuclear arms race . . . such an agreement will shut down a major avenue of nuclear competition," Kennedy said.
On the Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly called "Star Wars," and the Administration's desire to speed-up deployment of the high-technology orbiting weaponry:
"I will work to see to it that the Democratic Party and the Democratic platform of 1988 will repudiate any such deployment. We cannot and will not nominate a presidential candidate who echoes this Administration's concept of Star Wars."
Kennedy has said he will not run for President in 1988. But his audience Wednesday was not sure whether to take him entirely at his word--particularly when he teased them.
"These days I think I'm the only senator not running for higher office. Frankly, I don't think about being President any more. But I don't think about it any less, either."
For now, at least, Kennedy told a questioner he has high regard and deep respect for all the many Democratic contenders, "But none is higher (in my regard) nor deeper in respect than my own governor, Mike Dukakis, who is seeking my support. And I'm supporting Mike Dukakis. He's done an outstanding job in our state."