Secretary of State James A. Baker III, countering conservative criticism that he yielded too often in last week’s arms control talks in Moscow, said Wednesday that the emerging strategic arms reduction treaty represents far more wins than losses for U.S. negotiators.
Speaking at a press conference called to set the stage for President Bush’s May 30-June 3 meetings with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Baker also said it is unlikely that a new trade agreement will be signed at the summit because the Soviet Parliament has not yet eased restrictions on emigration.
“This treaty is shaping up largely on original United States concepts and original United States proposals,” Baker said of the negotiations to reduce the superpower arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons.
“In terms of what we have given and what we have taken, we have done very well, indeed,” Baker said. He dismissed the critics as “those who in the past . . . have simply rejected the concept of arms control generally.”
Almost as soon as Baker returned Sunday from intensive arms control negotiations in Moscow, he was besieged by complaints that he failed to take advantage of Soviet economic weakness to force Moscow to accept substantial new limitations on its military establishment.
The complaints came almost entirely from conservative elements in the Republican Party, including hard-line former officials of the Reagan Administration, conservative newspaper columnists and Capitol Hill staff members.
The critics accused Baker of failing to stop Soviet plans to modernize the giant SS-18 missiles, of being unable to guarantee withdrawal of Soviet troops from Germany and Eastern Europe and of falling short of restrictions on Moscow’s Backfire bomber.
At the conclusion of Baker’s Moscow visit, officials on both sides said those issues could not be resolved and would be left to future negotiations.
According to Bush Administration sources, Baker offered minor concessions on both the SS-18, a giant rocket much larger than any in the U.S. arsenal, and the conventional arms talks that are the key to withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern and Central Europe.
But Soviet negotiators dismissed both proposals as too little to bridge the gap between the two sides, the sources said.
At the same time, Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze were able to reach agreements on sea-launched and air-launched cruise missiles that were much closer to the U.S. position than to the Soviet position.
A senior White House official scoffed at suggestions that Bush was displeased with Baker’s negotiations. He also dismissed suggestions that Baker had failed to take full advantage of Soviet weakness.
“Sometimes weakness produces even more resistance than the confidence of strength,” the official said.
Baker conceded that the Soviets have toughened their negotiating stance after several years in which they made repeated concessions unmatched by American compromises.
“It’s been quite some time, I think, since anyone would even argue that we’ve made concessions,” Baker said. “It’s been pretty much all the other way around.”
Baker acknowledged that he was disappointed by growing Soviet intransigence at the 23-nation Conventional Forces in Europe negotiations, which are intended to reduce deployments of troops and such non-nuclear weapons as tanks, artillery and aircraft. The United States and its European allies hope to use those talks to require substantial cuts in Soviet troops in Eastern and Central Europe.
“Would we like to see the conventional agreement moved forward more rapidly? You’re darned right we would. And we continue to push it,” Baker said. But he noted that Washington would not try to link the strategic arms treaty to progress in the conventional talks.
He said the United States hopes the Bush-Gorbachev talks “can help give some new impetus to the conventional forces discussions.”
Baker said it is becoming increasingly less likely that Bush and Gorbachev will sign a new trade agreement, even though an agreement on the contents of such a pact was reached earlier by U.S. and Soviet negotiators.
The hang-up is a lack of progress by the Soviet Parliament on legislation codifying the eased emigration policies that Gorbachev instituted about a year ago. The United States has said that it will not grant Moscow most-favored-nation trade treatment until the emigration bill passes. Without the tariff reductions that accompany most-favored-nation status, the new trade agreement could not be implemented.
Baker said action on the emigration bill, once scheduled for May 31, “has been postponed somewhat.” He said it was technically possible to sign the trade agreement without passage of the emigration bill, but there would be little point to doing so.
A senior Administration official said later, however, that trade would remain on the agenda.