As Secretary of State George P. Shultz was striving to put the finishing touches on the intermediate-range arms treaty in Geneva on Monday, President Reagan sought support for the agreement, telling political allies the pact is "a good bargain."
At the same time, Reagan carefully hedged his remarks against the possibility that the Dec. 7-10 U.S.-Soviet summit might not occur, mindful of the disappointment felt last month when Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev suddenly, and temporarily, cooled on the pact.
"I'll be meeting here in Washington with General Secretary Gorbachev, unless some hitch develops that we can't foresee," the President said, adding: "It would . . . be hasty to assume that we're at the point where we're ready to put pen to paper and sign the treaty. For one thing, in at least one important area--verification--the treaty is not yet complete."
White House advisers generally discounted any serious concern that the summit might still be postponed, even though they acknowledged that they do not know how Gorbachev reacted to the scuttling last week of plans for him to make a nationally televised speech to a joint session of Congress. The chances for an agreement appear excellent, they said, and Reagan himself said later he just meant to be "cagey" in speaking of a possible hitch.
Looking ahead to the effort to win Senate approval of the expected pact, the President asked for assistance "in convincing the Senate--if we once sign and when we once sign this--to ratify this treaty."
In the briefing for about 200 political allies and state and local officeholders who have supported him in the past, Reagan outlined his agenda for the remaining 14 months of his term, declaring: "We're turning on the gas, we're putting the pedal to the metal, as they say, and we're making tracks."
Along with the effort to achieve a peace agreement in Central America, ratification of the arms control treaty is emerging as the centerpiece of the Administration's foreign policy program in 1988. The pact, which Reagan and Gorbachev hope to sign during the Soviet leader's visit here, would eliminate the two superpowers' arsenals of ground-launched nuclear weapons with ranges of between 300 and 3,000 miles.
"If all goes well, we'll sign an agreement that will, for the first time in history, eliminate an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles," Reagan said. "It's a good bargain. For every nuclear warhead of our own we remove, they'll have to give up four."
The White House hopes the signing of the treaty will be a public relations bonanza. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Monday that Richard Wirthlin, Reagan's pollster, has conducted sessions with a sample group of citizens in Philadelphia to gauge public sentiment on the treaty. The results of such in-depth sessions are used to tailor the President's appeals on an issue to answer the public's concerns and maximize aspects of support.
In part, Reagan hopes to use possible fears about reduced missile protection to build support for his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the space-based missile-defense program that has been excluded from arms control talks.
Today, on his way to his California ranch for the Thanksgiving holidays, Reagan is scheduled to stop in Denver for a public forum on the program, known as "Star Wars." He said he intends to "explain to the American people what we're talking about" in the costly and controversial proposal.