President Reagan encountered a growing storm of criticism Friday from conservatives over the intermediate-range nuclear missile treaty scheduled to be signed with the Soviet Union next week, with one critic denouncing him as a "useful idiot for Soviet propaganda."
That blast from Howard Phillips, head of the Conservative Caucus, was followed by another from conservative, direct-mail fund-raiser Richard Viguerie, who declared: "He has quit the fight and left the field of battle."
The heated rebukes further illustrate that Reagan, in attempting to complete what he views as the capstone foreign policy achievement of his Administration, has unalterably parted company with some staunch backers and will have to rely on support from liberal Democrats to win ratification of his long-sought treaty.
White House Confident
White House officials, while declining official comment on Friday's outburst, indicated confidence that all but the most hard-line conservatives would eventually be won over and that the treaty would be approved.
But the critical blast marred the atmosphere of triumph that the White House has been striving to create around next week's summit with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. And it drew further attention to the uncomfortable fact that--with the exception of Vice President George Bush--all of the GOP contenders to succeed Reagan are also openly denouncing the treaty or declining to back it.
The treaty--the result of talks that began in November, 1981--would eliminate from the U.S. and Soviet arsenals all ground-launched nuclear missiles with a range between 300 and 3,000 miles. The President and Gorbachev are scheduled to sign the agreement on Tuesday at the White House.
On Friday, Reagan called Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to the White House to review the pact and assure them that, contrary to the conservatives' charges, it would not dangerously undercut the security of the United States and its Western allies.
But Dole, in the GOP delegation, quickly challenged Reagan. He took issue with the President's comments in a television interview Thursday that the treaty's opponents did not understand the agreement and had closed their minds to any accord with the Soviets.
"There was a good strong colloquy in there between Mr. Dole and the President," said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), among those present.
Reagan told Dole that he thought the treaty's critics should read the document before opposing it, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
Warner said the "slight misunderstanding" was cleared up before the meeting ended. Dole left the White House without talking to reporters. In his campaign appearances for the Republican presidential nomination, he has been noncommittal about the treaty, saying he wanted to examine its provisions thoroughly before taking any stand.
The hard-line conservatives who blasted Reagan emphasized that their concerns about the pact would not be assuaged.
Led by Viguerie and Phillips, whose organization is a grass-roots lobbying group, they called a press conference to announce formation of the "Anti-Appeasement Alliance" to rally public opposition to the treaty.
Phillips said Reagan had become "a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda" and "a weak man with a strong wife and a strong staff"--a reference to reports that First Lady Nancy Reagan strongly urged Reagan to complete the arms control agreement.
Reagan "is little more than the speech reader-in-chief for the pro-appeasement triumvirate of Howard Baker, George Shultz and Frank Carlucci," he said. Baker is the White House chief of staff, Shultz is the secretary of state and Carlucci is the newly appointed secretary of defense. All have been criticized frequently by conservatives as overly moderate in foreign policy matters.
Viguerie, an early Reagan supporter who has become increasingly critical of him in recent years, asserted: "One thing is unanimous among the President's longtime supporters: that he has quit the fight and left the field of battle in many important matters.
"In other important matters he has changed sides and he is now allied with his former adversaries, the liberals, the Democrats and the Soviets," said Viguerie, a specialist in fund raising for conservative causes.
Like others at the news conference, Viguerie bitterly lashed back at Reagan for his slap at conservatives in the television interview.
In the White House session with four network anchormen, Reagan said, "The objections that we are hearing--and, yes, from some of our own, you might say, allies and own forces--they are based on a lack of knowledge as to what this treaty contains, and particularly are they ignorant of the advances that have been made in verification" that will assure compliance by both sides with the terms of the agreement.
"I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting any understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically down in their deepest thoughts have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the two superpowers," he said.
Viguerie said: "He was an apologist for Gorbachev. It was an outrage."
Brent Bozell, chairman of the Conservative Victory Committee, said Reagan "insulted the conservative movement" by saddling them with a doomsday image.
25 Charter Members
Viguerie and Phillips produced a list of about 25 names, all conservative activists, who they said would serve as charter members of the alliance. Viguerie predicted that the number would climb to 200 to 300 in about a week. But they admitted that stopping the treaty would be an uphill battle.
Several conservative organizers indicated that they intend to try to counter the White House briefings during the summit with press briefings of their own.
Reed Irvine, a member of the conservative group Accuracy in Media, said the conservatives hope that a continual recitation of their complaints in the American press will "help the President understand that Secretary Gorbachev is a Communist and that he intends to carry out the goal of world domination by communism."
In Iowa, support for Reagan came from Vice President George Bush, who was on a campaign visit. Bush told reporters: "I don't have any respect for anyone on the eve of a summit who would criticize their President. . . . They're just as wrong as wrong can be on this, as they are on many things."
Times staff writer Jim Mann also contributed to this article.