President Reagan, in a lengthy private discussion at the Vatican that dealt mainly with U.S.-Soviet relations, assured Pope John Paul II on Saturday that he is optimistic about reaching a nuclear arms control agreement with the Soviet Union.
The President gave the Pope a status report on arms control negotiations in Geneva that are aimed at removing short- and intermediate-range missiles from Europe and said he plans to discuss the issue at the seven-nation economic summit that opens Monday evening in Venice, according to White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
"Most of our discussions were on U.S.-Soviet relations and on General Secretary (Mikhail S.) Gorbachev," Fitzwater quoted Reagan as saying.
Met in Vatican Library
In brief public statements after their private session in the Vatican Library, both leaders discussed the need to work for world peace. The pontiff recalled that when Reagan made his first presidential visit to the Vatican in 1982, "I expressed the hope that world peace might be fostered through greater trust between peoples and nations--a trust that is manifested and proved through constructive negotiations aimed at ending the arms race. . . ."
Standing about 20 feet away from Reagan as the Pope spoke was U.S. Army Maj. Ron Thomas, a military aide holding a black briefcase said to contain the communications code needed to launch an instant nuclear strike in response to an enemy attack. The briefcase, commonly referred to at the White House as "the football," is carried by a military aide accompanying the President any time he leaves the White House.
In his public comments, John Paul urged that governments reach beyond political and ideological boundaries to forge new bonds of trust.
Then, said the Pope, "even those who have previously been labeled as enemies can be seen in a new perspective, as brothers and sisters in one human family."
The President, who flew here to meet with the Pope and later with Italian President Francesco Cossiga and caretaker Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani before returning to Venice to await the opening of the economic summit, has been sharply critical of the Soviet Union in comments on several occasions since arriving in Venice on Wednesday.
In his remarks, before John Paul spoke, Reagan did not mention the Soviets directly. But, commenting on the Pope's plan to leave Monday for a weeklong visit to his native Poland, the President said:
"We see the power of the spiritual force in that troubled land, uniting a people in hope, just as we see the powerful stirrings to the east of a belief that will not die, despite generations of oppression."
In his regular Saturday radio address to the American people, which was taped Friday in Venice, Reagan lashed out at the Soviets, urging that they be pressured "in such areas as regional conflicts like Afghanistan and human rights."
Reagan earlier had planned to pay an official state visit to Italy during his trip, but the plan had to be scrapped because of a political crisis that forced early elections, scheduled to be held June 14.
Because of electoral protocol and for security reasons, Reagan and his wife, Nancy, did not appear in public during their five-hour visit in Rome. To lower the risks, they traveled by helicopter from the Rome airport to the Vatican and then to President Cossiga's seaside retreat before returning to the airport for the flight back to Venice aboard Air Force One.
The Italians deployed several thousand troops and took extraordinary measures to protect the President and his party while they were in Rome.
Even though Reagan himself was not in the motorcade that brought other members of his party to the Castel Porziano, where he lunched with Cossiga and Fanfani, a circuitous route requiring a sharp U-turn was taken.
Officials said that was done because Italian terrorists have been known to ambush their victims in underpasses where they can block both ends. The motorcade's route Saturday avoided two underpasses.
Earlier this week, Italian authorities raided a hide-out of the notorious Red Brigades terrorists and said they had uncovered a plot to assassinate Renato Ruggiero, secretary general of Italy's Foreign Ministry. Five suspects were arrested in the raid.
The incident was especially unsettling for authorities planning the summit in Venice because Ruggiero had accompanied Italian prime ministers to previous economic summits and has participated in planning for this one.
Reagan and the Pope, who had also met in 1984 in Alaska when the President stopped there en route home from a China trip and the pontiff stopped en route to South Korea, greeted each other enthusiastically in the papal library where they conferred Saturday.
As they grasped each other with both hands, the Pope said in clear, but Polish-accented, English, "Wonderful to see you."
"Wonderful to see you again," the President responded. The two leaders then took seats in straight-backed mahogany chairs, with John Paul sitting behind a simple antique mahogany desk, and conferred with no aides present.
Although Reagan told reporters that he could not say what had been discussed because "our conversations are private," Fitzwater later talked with the President and gave reporters a rundown on what the President said the discussions concerned.
Reagan described the session as "just great," according to Fitzwater, and said: "We had a very interesting discussion on a number of subjects. The Pope and I shared the same views on many subjects."
A Vatican press officer said the talks were a wide-ranging view of international problems dealing with world peace. "In particular," he said, "there was discussion of some pressing aspects of current events such as East-West relations, disarmament, North-South cooperation and the situations in the Middle East and Central America."
Others in the White House entourage visiting the Vatican included First Lady Nancy Reagan, White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff Kenneth L. Duberstein, Fitzwater, Communications Director Thomas Griscom and the First Lady's hairdresser, Julius Bengsston.
Both the President and the Pope, in their brief public remarks, talked enthusiastically of John Paul's plans to visit the United States for two weeks beginning Sept. 10.
Declaring that memories of his previous visit to the United States in 1979 "remain for me a source of joy," the Pope said he looks forward "to be once again in the midst of the American people, so as to join my heart and voice with theirs in praise of the living God."
Reagan reminded the pontiff that on Reagan's visit here in 1982--an emotional encounter between two world leaders who had survived bullet wounds from would-be assassins--he had urged the Pope "to carry your ministry to the southern and western sections of the United States and you graciously agreed, and I know that all America looks forward to your arrival in September."
The Pope's schedule calls for visits to Miami, Columbia, S.C., New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, Detroit and one Canadian city, Ft. Simpson.
A White House spokesman said that Reagan will meet with the Pope in Miami on Sept. 10 and that Nancy Reagan will join the pontiff in Los Angeles on Sept. 16 for a visit to a grade school to discuss Mrs. Reagan's anti-drug campaign.