President Bush, elated by his success at the NATO summit, which ended Tuesday, will challenge the Western Alliance to adopt a “new mission” in a speech he plans to deliver this morning.
Speaking in the historic city of Mainz, about 70 miles up the Rhine River from Bonn, Bush will declare that the success of the two-day NATO summit demonstrates that the alliance has prevailed in its first mission of preserving the peace in Europe. He will say, sources said, that the time has now come to proceed to a second mission--building a new Europe that is “whole and free.”
That phrase is intended to be Bush’s response to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s call for a “common European home"--a concept that would preserve a Soviet presence on the Continent but rule out one for the United States.
Reiterating his earlier calls for expanded human rights in the East Bloc, Bush is expected to declare that a common home is not possible so long as “the family within it is not free to move from room to room,” the sources said.
The speech, being carried live by American television networks, is designed, a senior official said, to “give him an opportunity to pull together the themes (that) the President has been stressing in a series of foreign policy addresses and initiatives over the past several weeks.”
Bush plans to reiterate former President Ronald Reagan’s call for the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall, and to praise Hungary and Poland for the liberalizing steps their governments have taken.
And noting that air and water pollution respect no political boundaries, he is expected to propose that the West open a new area of cooperation with the Soviet Bloc by sharing pollution control technologies for Europe.
On Tuesday, Bush flew here to the capital of West Germany to reaffirm the ties between Germany and the United States, an alliance that had been strained for months by tensions over the future of NATO’s short-range nuclear forces in Europe. As a sign of “closer relations,” Bush announced plans to drop visa requirements for Germans visiting the United States.
After meeting with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Bush said that NATO had challenged Gorbachev to “come forward” and respond to U.S. arms reduction initiatives.
Bush said he put forward his proposal for deep cuts in manpower, weaponry, planes and helicopters because the United States and its allies “share a vision of a less militarized Europe where great armies no longer face each other across barbed wire and concrete walls.”
“In challenging Mr. Gorbachev to come forward now, we have moved in the right direction in unity,” he said.
The alliance’s endorsement of the proposal, he said, was “a wonderful celebration of the 40th anniversary of NATO.”
Earlier, in Brussels, Bush was asked whether he might meet with Gorbachev before the end of the year to accelerate arms talks. He replied that he had sent word to the Soviet leader that he was prepared for such a meeting if it would be “constructive.”
The NATO summit, in the view of Western leaders, was a singular success for Bush who had been widely criticized for moving too slowly and allowing Gorbachev to dominate the world stage with his arms control proposals.
The President not only won a ringing endorsement for his NATO initiative but managed to defuse a potentially divisive issue over demands that NATO begin immediate negotiations to reduce short-range nuclear forces in Europe.
Months of Division
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization had been divided for months over the issue, with West Germany pushing for quick negotiations and the United States and Britain holding out against the idea. In the end, the alliance reached a compromise acceptable to all sides.
“After difficult discussions, we came to a joint decision” on the issue, Chancellor Kohl said at a joint press conference here with Bush. “I think we were just all winners.”
The compromise ties talks for “partial reductions” in the short-range nuclear weapons to an agreement in the Vienna talks between East and West to reduce conventional weapons. Britain and the United States had opposed early talks, fearing they would lead to calls for elimination of the nuclear weapons with a range of 300 miles or less. The weapons are needed, they said, to offset the Warsaw Pact’s superiority in conventional forces.
Kohl praised Bush for his leadership and called his arms control initiative “an enormous step forward.”
Praise from Thatcher
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said the President had demonstrated “very clear leadership” and had given the summit, which at one time appeared headed for a rancorous fight over the short-range missile issue, “a psychological lift.”
Taking issue with critics who have faulted Bush for moving too slowly, Thatcher said, “I much prefer a leader to be measured rather than rushing in.”
The President suggested his arms reduction proposal is in the best interest of the Soviets, as well as the allies, because it would save them “a lot of money.”
Asked at a Brussels press conference to comment on Gorbachev’s proposal for a 14% reduction in Soviet defense spending over 1990 and 1991, the President said: “Well, this will help him--this proposal. If he hits our bid, that should save him a lot of money in the long run because he has a disproportionate number of conventional forces.”
But Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking to reporters later in the day, went out of his way to emphasize that the arms control proposals were designed to protect NATO by reducing the current overwhelming East Bloc superiority in non-nuclear forces. His remarks seemed designed to preempt any criticism from domestic conservatives of Bush’s proposal to pull about 30,000 U.S. combat troops out of Europe.
Looking relaxed and confident as he fielded reporters’ questions at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Bush said the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had reported that the initial Soviet reaction to his proposal was “fairly positive.”
Then, turning to Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, who was leaning on a wall to his side, the President said, “Brent, is that about right?”
“Cautious,” replied Scowcroft.
But the President, obviously enjoying his moment of triumph after enduring weeks of criticism at home and abroad, insisted on a more optimistic interpretation.
“Cautious,” Bush said, “but we are leaning on the side of interpreting--saying it positively. In other words, they didn’t really slam the door and come on in a negative vein.”
Baker later told reporters that Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze has called Bush’s plan a “positive and substantial proposal that would be given serious consideration.”
Gorbachev, who is riding high in European public opinion polls, was the subject of extensive discussion at the summit, especially by American officials, NATO sources said.
Trying To Live Down Remark
The Administration is still trying to live down a remark several weeks ago by White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater that Gorbachev had been throwing around arms control proposals “like a drugstore cowboy.”
Baker told reporters here he thought Fitzwater would take back that remark if he could.
Bush said that he had been taking the Soviet leader seriously all along and said he had never doubted or questioned whether “Gorbachev knew that we were serious and wanted to move forward with him.”
The President, recalling he had come under fire “for being recalcitrant, and reluctant to move forward” after Gorbachev’s proposals, insisted that he had been correct to “take our time and act in a prudent manner.”
“And whatever the wait,” he said, “whatever the political arrows might have been fired my way, it’s all been worth it, because I think we have something sound and solid to build on now.”