Secretary of State James A. Baker III met with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze on Tuesday and said the United States and the Soviet Union will try to agree in May on a date for resuming their suspended negotiations on strategic nuclear weapons.
Shevardnadze said that he also expects to discuss the prospects and timing for a summit meeting between President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev during the May meeting with Baker. U.S. officials have said the Bush Administration’s first summit with the Soviet leader could come as early as the summer.
During more than two hours of talks--the Bush Administration’s first high-level meeting with the Soviet government--Baker also told Shevardnadze that Bush is committed to continuing the improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations that began in 1985 when President Ronald Reagan first met with Gorbachev.
“We believe perestroika is good for the Soviet Union, and we think it is good for the rest of the world, and we hope the Soviets succeed,” Baker told reporters, using the Russian word for Gorbachev’s program of economic and political reform.
‘New Thinking’ Praised
He praised Gorbachev’s “new thinking” in foreign policy and said, “I really believe the commitment to this is strong.”
“This was a good beginning,” Shevardnadze told Baker animatedly as they ended their talks, including a one-on-one session that lasted more than an hour, at the suburban residence of the U.S. ambassador here.
“My overall impression is that we will have good cooperation between us--and maybe this is the most important conclusion,” the Soviet foreign minister told reporters in the villa’s driveway.
Senior U.S. officials said Shevardnadze seemed intent on determining whether the Bush Administration’s decision to move cautiously on arms talks reflected a much more skeptical view of U.S.-Soviet relations than prevailed under Reagan.
“He was seeking reassurance from us that we really saw the overall relationship in pretty much the same general way that the Reagan Administration did--and we, I think, conveyed that sense to him,” said a senior official traveling with Baker.
Some Bush Administration officials, especially National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, have expressed considerable skepticism about the real chances for change in Soviet foreign policy. For his part, Baker said Tuesday that he is “anxious to see action and not just rhetoric,” but he clearly chose to emphasize the positive.
Baker said he told Shevardnadze that the Administration plans to complete its review of U.S. nuclear strategy--which has held up resumption of the strategic arms talks--"toward the end of April.”
Baker and Shevardnadze will then discuss a specific date for restarting the negotiations at a meeting which they set for the first half of May in Moscow, he said.
Under the Reagan Administration, the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) made considerable progress toward cuts of up to 50% in U.S. and Soviet intercontinental missiles.
The negotiations were scheduled to resume Feb. 15, but Bush suspended the talks until his national security advisers could review U.S. negotiating strategy.
Baker and Shevardnadze also discussed a broad range of other U.S.-Soviet concerns, ranging from Central America and the Middle East to human rights in the Soviet Union. And despite their expressions of general harmony, they also collided on many points:
-- On Central America, Baker pressed Shevardnadze to end Soviet military aid to Nicaragua’s leftist regime, but Shevardnadze refused. Instead, he repeated an earlier Soviet offer to stop aiding Nicaragua if the United States halts its military aid to El Salvador and other countries in the area--a proposal Baker said “is not acceptable.”
-- On the Middle East, Shevardnadze reiterated Moscow’s support for an international peace conference to include the superpowers as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors. Baker said he “welcomed Soviet interest in the Middle East,” but he warned that a conference could be “counterproductive.”
Instead, he said the United States wants to pursue its own initiatives--including the current U.S. dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization--"to bring about . . . direct negotiations between the parties.”
-- On human rights, Baker told Shevardnadze that the United States is “disappointed” with continued repression in both the Soviet Union and several nations of Eastern Europe but expressed optimism that Soviet performance would improve. He said he brought up several specific human rights cases with the Soviet foreign minister but refused to name them, saying, “We can expect more progress if we don’t put the names out here in the public arena.”
Expansion of Agendas
Shevardnadze agreed to a proposal by Baker that the formal agenda of succeeding U.S.-Soviet meetings be expanded to include such “transnational” issues as terrorism, environmental concerns, drug trafficking and the proliferation of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons in the Third World.
But Baker said neither side pressed for many specific commitments--"It was not that kind of meeting,” he said.
Instead, the two foreign ministers sought to take each others’ measure in the first of what could be many such encounters.
“We talked about . . . the desire to establish a personal relationship which would allow us to confront contentious issues in a frank but hopefully constructive way,” Baker said.
Shevardnadze, who established a close and unusually cordial relationship with Baker’s predecessor, George P. Shultz, made the point gently across their green baize conference table at the start of a meeting of the two countries’ full delegations here for talks on reduction of conventional forces in Europe.
“I see in the American delegation some new faces,” he said, “and some old friends too.”