Gorbachev and Reagan Exchange Holiday Greetings

Times Staff Writer

For the second consecutive year, President Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev exchanged New Year’s greetings for the Soviet and American people, each saluting the sharp improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations during 1988.

The exchange of videotaped messages, each about five minutes long, for broadcast on Soviet and American television, reflected the new ease with which Reagan, who took office as perhaps the most anti-Communist leader in recent U.S. history, has been dealing with the Soviet Union in general and Gorbachev in particular.

As if recognizing this, Gorbachev said in his remarks--a text of which was made public Saturday by the White House--that “Americans seem to be rediscovering the Soviet Union--and we are rediscovering America. Fears and suspicion are gradually giving way to trust and feelings of mutual liking.

“Last year was rich in momentous events. It also brought many good changes in relations between our peoples and countries,” the Soviet leader added. “Today they are more dynamic and more humane. We have become closer, and we have come to know each other better.”


Similarly, Reagan told the Soviet people, “I am confident that relations between our two countries will continue on the positive course they have followed in the year just ending.

“Despite our disagreements, we have been able to find some common ground,” he added, singling out human rights, arms control, regional problems and U.S.-Soviet relations in general.

The Reagan-Gorbachev exchange was broadcast in full by ABC and NBC. CBS used excerpts from both talks on its evening news program.

Difference From Last Year

In tone and specific content, the speeches by the two leaders reflected the positive course in relations, when compared with the addresses each delivered one year ago. At that time, Reagan used the Soviet airwaves to gently prod the Kremlin on such sensitive issues as human rights and regional disputes, while giving a condensed introduction to American society that offered the Soviet audience a glimpse of American holiday traditions and a miniature civics lesson.

And two years ago, Gorbachev declared that after the failures of the October, 1986, summit conference in Iceland, superpower relations were too poor to justify an exchange of New Year’s greetings. So, Reagan’s message that year, broadcast on the Voice of America, was blotted out by electronic jamming in much of the Soviet Bloc.

Reagan’s 1989 message was videotaped on Dec. 15 in the White House Map Room, before the President flew to California for a two-week vacation.

The President said that in human rights, “progress is being made in reunification of families, freedom of people to travel as they please, and in other areas.” He also said that the halt in electronic jamming is a positive step.

‘Solutions Being Found’

“In regional issues, from Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf and southern Africa, solutions are being found to conflicts of many years’ standing,” Reagan said, challenging the Soviets to join “in the effort to bring peace, democracy and security to Central America"--a region to which Gorbachev made no reference in his speech.

Reagan also challenged the Soviets to go beyond the 500,000-troop cut in conventional forces that Gorbachev announced at the United Nations on Dec. 7. The troop reduction, Reagan said, is “certainly a step in the right direction of correcting the imbalances in the European military situation.”

Administration Change

Both the American and Soviet presidents, recognizing the change in administrations that is about to occur in the United States, predicted that President-elect George Bush would bring an element of continuity to the two nations’ relations.

“We can look ahead with optimism to the future of our relations. This is what we talked about with President-elect Bush,” Gorbachev said, referring to his meeting with Bush in New York on the day of the U.N. speech.

Less Optimistic Approach

In his weekly radio address broadcast in the United States, Reagan took a slightly less optimistic approach, stating that U.S.-Soviet relations can continue to improve, but “we must remain sober in our estimation of our negotiating partners and without illusion . . . about their goals and aims.”

Whether seeking reduced tensions in relations with the Soviet Union or in the Middle East, the Bush Administration will need congressional support and “appropriate levels of defense spending,” Reagan said, adding, “Trust me, I know.”

The radio address was delivered from the Palms Spring estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, with whom the President and Nancy Reagan are spending the New Year’s holiday, as they have for nearly two decades. The festivities included a black-tie New Year’s Eve dinner.

‘Policy of Peace Paying Off’

As the New Year arrived, the President declared in the radio speech that “our economy is healthy, our defenses are strong and our policy of peace through strength is paying off in spades.”

Reagan’s optimism was tempered only by the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21.

“Now if, as seems likely, our terrorists have crawled out of their hole to threaten American lives, I can promise them this: The pledge we made to seek out the truth and punish the guilty is a sacred one which George Bush shares,” he said.