While welcoming the American proposal for reducing conventional forces in Europe, the Soviet Union on Tuesday expressed its regret at a NATO decision that puts off negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons until there is agreement on cutting back the non-nuclear forces.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said on his arrival in Paris for a human rights conference that President Bush’s proposals for a 20% reduction in U.S. combat forces in Europe and cuts in combat aircraft and helicopter gunships as well as tanks and artillery pieces are “a serious step in the right direction.”
He said the accelerated timetable proposed by Bush is also attractive but that the Soviet Union wants to study the proposal in detail with its Warsaw Pact allies.
“The faster we get down to negotiation, the faster we can proceed to disarmament,” Shevardnadze said.
Maj. Gen. Vladimir Kuklev, a member of the Soviet general staff, said in Moscow that some of the Bush proposals are “very close” to Warsaw Pact positions and that the inclusion of combat aircraft and helicopter gunships is “a major step” toward an agreement in the East-West talks in Vienna on reducing conventional arms in Europe.
But considerable negotiations lie ahead, Kuklev said, in order to clarify the positions of both sides and then reach a compromise.
“Our proposals in Vienna were more radical,” he said at a briefing here, “but we have a good basis now to proceed.”
Klaus-Dieter Erst, East Germany’s chief delegate to the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) talks in Vienna, said Tuesday that the Warsaw Pact is prepared to cut its conventional forces in Central Europe “approximately 50% in all categories,” according to the Reuters news agency.
“If the political will is there, and that seems to be the case on both sides, we could reach agreement in a relatively short time,” Ernst told a news conference in Vienna, Reuters reported.
However, he indicted that there could be disagreement over the force levels involved because of different interpretations of what constitutes Central Europe. For NATO the region consists of Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The Warsaw Pact insists it also includes Hungary and Denmark.
Undercut by Missile Decision
Soviet officials, while also welcoming the U.S. proposal, suggested that it was undercut in some ways by the decision, taken Tuesday by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders, to defer negotiations on “a partial reduction” of short-range nuclear missiles, a troubling issue within NATO as well as between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
“These two approaches cannot be expressed logically--they are at complete variance,” Gennady I. Gerasimov, the chief Foreign Ministry spokesman, told journalists. “Why not move forward on all fronts simultaneously?
“Given the improved climate in Europe, to say that we should have a linkage (between the negotiations on conventional forces and those on tactical nuclear weapons) is less and less convincing. If the United States is going to postpone the negotiations on tactical nuclear missiles until we have an agreement on conventional weapons and start reductions, then that is a protraction, a protraction that we do not need.”
But Viktor P. Karpov, a deputy foreign minister and Moscow’s chief arms negotiator, said he is pleased that the United States, which had previously rejected negotiations on reducing short-range nuclear weapons and was intent on replacing its present systems with more modern ones, is now ready for at least conditional talks.
Karpov credited President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s announcement of a unilateral, 10% troop cut over two years, made in December at the United Nations in New York, with softening the U.S. position significantly. He said the Soviet and Warsaw Pact negotiators at the conventional arms talks in Vienna will take up the U.S. proposal immediately.
Valentin Zorin, a leading Soviet foreign affairs commentator, argued in a report on the nightly television news program “Vremya” that “Soviet proposals had at last pushed Washington off dead center, where it has been sitting for the past several months.”
“The deep contradictions between the NATO members are not resolved but pushed deep inside,” Zorin said. “It was not by chance that President Bush in his speech (in Brussels on Monday) avoided sensitive questions dividing him from the majority of his European allies. That issue is tactical nuclear weapons, and the compromise decision on this problem was made at the very last moment.”