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Superpower football; Andropov's losses

By Joseph C. Harsch / October 14, 1983



This has been a better week in world affairs for Ronald Reagan than for Yuri Andropov. The Soviets continued this past week at their game of trying to frighten away West Europe from the NATO missile deployment set to begin in December.

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The latest Kremlin move was to drop a hint about possibly pulling out of the Geneva arms control talks.

The atmosphere was also full of speculation about what the Soviets will do, rather than just say, when the American weapons actually begin to arrive at their bases in Western Europe. Might the Soviets put their own version of a cruise missile on submarines cruising off US coasts? Or might they mount some of their shorter-range intermediate missiles (possibly the SS-21 with a range of 75 miles) in Eastern Europe?

But there was nothing either new or surprising or startling about the above. It has all been discounted in advance in Western capitals. More interesting, and possibly unsettling, were events in or touching some of the clients of the major powers.

The government of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines is in deepening trouble. That prospect leaves Washington with a problem about its air and naval bases in the Philippines. Any successor regime is likely to feel less disposed toward renewing the leases, if only because the United States has for so long been so closely associated with the Marcos regime. Unless Washington distances itself at once, as it failed to do in the case of the Shah of Iran, it may find itself squeezed out afterward.

El Salvador is another client problem that's apparently getting worse. The right-wing ''death squads'' have been at work again, killing political leaders of the labor federation and middle-ground political elements.

The State Department has had to warn the regime that unless it can restrain right-wing terrorism, the continuation of US aid will be in doubt. The warning was given again during the week. Henry Kissinger's Presidential Commission on Central America was in the area during the week. The policy of supporting the right in El Salvador is again on shaky ground.

Israel got itself a new prime minister this week, Yitzhak Shamir, and with him a jolting taste of the cost of his predecessor's unfinished invasion of Lebanon.

Nearly a year and a half after the invasion began, Israeli troops are still deployed in southern Lebanon in an unsettled military and political situation. The cost of keeping the troops there is estimated at more than $1 million a day. On the day after Mr. Shamir took over the office of prime minister, he also devalued the currency by 23 percent and canceled half of the main food subsidies.

The Middle East remained unsettled during the week by the expected arrival in Iraq of French Super Etendard planes of the type that proved so damaging to British naval vessels during the Falklands war. The Iraqis threaten to use them to shut off the flow of oil from Iran to the outside world. Iran, in turn, threatens to retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, cutting off all Gulf oil headed toward the West or Japan. US naval forces were reported to be moving toward the strait.

Over on Moscow's side of the great East-West divide, there was little to cause cheer or comfort.

The propaganda campaign against deployment of the new American weapons in Europe is failing. There will be demonstrations, particularly in West Germany, this coming week. But the West German government is confident that it can contain the situation.

There may have been a shuffling of the Soviet Far Eastern military command as a result of the shooting down of the Korean passenger liner.

Mr. Andropov is certainly embarrassed over his inability so far to get a major economic reform program under way. And he has certainly failed to make Poland look like a happy or willing client.

Back in Moscow, Mr. Andropov had also to note that the Chinese, whom he has been courting, were enjoying the spectacle of seeing their foreign minister received like an old friend at the White House in Washington.