Washington's pincer movement
To the denizens of the Kremlin, Washington's counterattack on their peace offensive must look rather like an unpredictable pincer movement. On their western flank, President Reagan's deputy is bursting out of vice-presidential obscurity into a headline-catching effort to reassure the European allies of Washington's good intentions as the Geneva arms talks reopen.Skip to next paragraph
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On their eastern flank, the United States' low-key secretary of state is taking off on a similar fence-mending trip around American friends and allies in Asia.
And to give the men of the Kremlin something else to think about, below their southern frontiers the 23-year-old Arab-led OPEC oil cartel is showing distinct signs of decay. As the world's largest oil producer, the Soviet Union has been among the bigger beneficiaries of OPEC-engendered price hikes. Conversely, as the oil price slides downward officially or under the counter, the US economy could be the winner of up to $2 billion for every $1-per-barrel decline - a potential tax-cut-equivalent of no mild proportions.
This is the moment, in short, when Washington has an opportunity to regain the initiative in big-power maneuvering.
Recently the new boy on the Kremlin block, Yuri Andropov, has moved fast and skillfully to hold the world's center stage. This past week, however, the news from Moscow has been more about the former KGB boss's shuffling of his mammoth bureaucracy than of his international acrobatics. Mr. Reagan and his men now have their own diplomatic opportunity.
Although it will be Vice-President George Bush who will be walking Europe's red carpets during the coming days, the influence of the other George - George Shultz - will be very much present, even as the secretary of state moves in person between Tokyo, Peking, and Seoul.
It was the delicate internal and external diplomacy of Mr. Shultz that repaired European-American relations fractured by the Siberian pipeline dispute. And it is daily becoming clearer that the ousting of Eugene Rostow from his place at the head of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, whether or not it was subtly engineered in the State Department, has resulted in a greatly enlarged role for Mr. Shultz in the Geneva arms control negotiations. The shadow of Shultz in the background of the Bush entourage is likely to be comforting rather than disturbing to most Europeans.
Equally important is the secretary of state's mission to shore up the eastern wing of Washington's Soviet-containment strategy. Specifically, Mr. Shultz wants to make sure that Peking's modest Pisa-like tilt toward the West in general and the United States in particular is not undermined by Soviet blandishments or American insensitivity. He must also hope to encourage the unexpectedly vigorous efforts of Japan's new premier, Yasuhiro Nakasone, to rebuild the rusty foundations of the US-Japan alliance.
This past week has neatly illustrated the relationship between the eastern and western wings of the American system of alliances - and the Kremlin's efforts to play off one alliance wing against the other.