One day after an upbeat President Bush called for "new thinking" in the West's approach to the Soviet Union, his senior aides insisted Tuesday that Vice President Dan Quayle's skeptical remarks about Soviet foreign policy do not reflect a split within the Administration.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Quayle said Monday that the Soviet Union still has a "totalitarian government" seeking to "create instability in areas like Central America." In another interview Tuesday, he tempered those remarks by saying that he should have called the Soviet Union authoritarian rather than totalitarian.
Responding to the vice president's initial, sharply critical comments, Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser, said that Quayle's remarks reflected a difference in tone from the President's conclusions, rather than a difference in substance.
"The vice president had his own perspective on the situation," Scowcroft told reporters.
However, it appeared that Quayle's comments represented a distinctly harder-line view inside the Administration and that the White House was carefully using them to blunt potential attacks from Republican right wingers on its Soviet policy moves.
Quayle, however, maintained in the subsequent interview--with editors and reporters of Knight-Ridder newspapers--that he and Bush are not following a "good-guy, bad-guy strategy."
Bush, meanwhile, reported to the Cabinet on Tuesday afternoon on the summit with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. He was given a standing ovation when he entered the Cabinet Room.
But, among those with a reputation for taking a hard line on U.S.-Soviet ties, former arms control negotiator Paul H. Nitze decried what was described as the "euphoria" stemming from the summit and the relaxation of Soviet domination in the East Bloc.
"Somebody has to be looking at this from a standpoint of realism," he told reporters at a breakfast interview. Nitze directed his criticism at Bush's summit effort to speed up three sets of negotiations intended to trim the superpowers' arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons, conventional armaments and chemical weapons.
"I think the President showed a lack of understanding of how these negotiations are going by setting these deadlines," Nitze said. "Maybe he intends to put the pressure of meeting these deadlines on Mr. Gorbachev, and he doesn't consider himself bound by that. But . . . I think the pressure will be on (Bush) to make agreements fast in order to (meet) these deadlines. . . ."
As U.S. officials reviewed the gains of the summit, they acknowledged that in certain areas--most notably Afghanistan--it produced no sign of progress.
Scowcroft said that the two sides remain apart on the resolution of the Afghan war, nearly a year after Moscow began withdrawing its forces. He said that the differences focused on the future role of Afghanistan's Soviet-backed leader, President Najibullah, while negotiations to end the fighting take place between the government and the U.S.-backed guerrillas.
Administration officials said that Bush was not uncomfortable with the vice president's remarks, although they would seem to take some of the luster off the President's achievements at the summit.
Quayle's "No. 1 priority is to be a loyal and effective vice president to this President, and he is extremely comfortable with what he said," said David Beckwith, Quayle's press secretary, suggesting that the vice president's comments reflected a carefully thought-out view backed by Bush.
Times staff writers Kevin Davis and William J. Eaton contributed to this story.