Washington — Vice-President Bush is not predicting a thaw in US-Soviet relations. But, because Soviet leader Yuri Andropov may be especially well informed about the US , Mr. Bush believes an improvement of ties may be possi-ble.
In a 40-minute, year-end Monitor interview in his White House office, Mr. Bush had this to say:
Q: You've just been to Moscow for Brezhnev's funeral. How do you read the mood there?
A: They've said publicly and they've said to us that they have a desire to have improved relations. They treated us very well and, in a protocol sense, outstandingly. They accorded us courtesies far above the rank of vice-president.
My view on Andropov is that some people make this KGB thing sound horrendous. Maybe I speak defensively as a former head of the CIA. But leave out the operational side of KGB - the naughty things they allegedly do: Here's a man who has had access to a tremendous amount of intelligence over the years.
In my judgment he would be much less apt to misread the intentions of the United States. And you know and I know and the Democrats and the Republicans in the US would just not go out and make war on the Soviet Union. And that is something which I think a political boss out of a Vladivostok or a Leningrad might be less apt to know than a man who ran the intelligence organization.
That offers potential. And the other side of that is he's tough. And he appears to have solidified his leadership position in a very short period of time - although it is too early to say how long that will last. That's their internal affair. And I wouldn't speculate publicly on it.
Except to say that it was very clear that he was very much in charge. So there is reason to be hopeful on the basis of this. You've got to be hopeful.
Q: The leaders were hospitable then?
A: Oh, yes. Every diplomat saw this, but I haven't seen it written. But we were halfway up the steps, and the Soviet protocol fellow came and pulled us out (Shultz and me) and put us ahead of all these chiefs of state, royal highnesses, and excellencies, and plenipotentiaries and shoved us right up to the head of the line.
But it was very noticeable to everybody. It was under TV and they could see Shultz and me walking past everybody. But this was just one manifestation of this hospitality. And we spent a total of 40 minutes with Andropov, which was a lot of time.
Q: What is the President's position on nuclear arms?
A: This President really wants a reduction in arms. Most people don't know that. Because you've got that freeze thing out there. And people out there say, ''If you really want an absolute reduction in arms, you go for the freeze.'' And those of us who aren't for the freeze are automatically categorized as not for a reduction in arms. It's an argument I take great offense with, incidentally.
I find it intellectually offensive to suggest that, given the history of the ABM treaty and everything else. So there is this whole kind of feeling out there. And those of us who know the President's position so well probably haven't been as articulate as we might have been in trying to make people understand that this President is absolutely convinced that we must achieve a reduction, a real demonstrable, visible, verifiable reduction in nuclear weapons.
Q: Why isn't this perceived?
A: Well, if it weren't accompanied with the President's requirement that there be a strengthening of the United States defense, it would be. But it's the last caveat that causes people to say that ''It's a ruse; he doesn't really feel that way''
I don't question people's integrity in this. They just don't know how strongly the President feels about all this. And I do. I see him, talk to him - with people and alone.
Q: Does (Andropov's) own organization dabble in the gathering of accurate information that would enable him to have accurate knowledge about the Soviet weaknesses?
A: All I would guess, based on my understanding of the intelligence apparatus , is that the person who had exposure to that would be more apt to have the objective data than one who dealt all his life with the propaganda machinery or with the party network. Not that Andropov isn't part of the party.
Q: But does he have access to the information necessary to get at the real facts about Russia?
A: I think he has access. But given his party standing and what we know of him: I don't want to make the case that he doesn't have convictions that are quite contrary to what we think the objective data should give him. He's no softy - or anything like that.
We're still dealing with a totalitarian system - where you don't know what's happening all of the time.
Q: Is this administration concerned that tensions between the Chinese and the Soviets may be easing?
A: So what if there is a reduction of tensions on the Soviet-Chinese border. I don't think that is necessarily detrimental to the interests of the United States. Now if you say to me that the Soviets are going to take 20 divisions off the Chinese border and put them into Europe, then we would say, ''Hey, that wouldn't be very good,'' That would be desta-bilizing.
But just to have reductions in tensions between them: I don't think that should make us feel all up-tight. Just as if we reduce tensions with China that that should drive the Soviets up the wall.
Q: Finally, your assessment of this administration at mid-term?
A: My assessment is this: Unemployment is too high. Interest rates are much better. Inflation is much better. Deficits are outrageous. We have to do something in a bipartisan fashion to get those down.
But the President turned a lot of things around. The credibility of the US is much better.