Samantha Smith takes her questions to Washington

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Samantha Smith wants two things for her 12th birthday: world peace . . . and a kitten. Samantha is the 11-year-old from Manchester, Maine, who wrote a letter to Soviet President Yuri Andropov detailing her concern about nuclear proliferation. She made international headlines in July when she visited the Soviet Union at Mr. Andropov's invitation.

Now Samantha has been assigned by The Disney Channel to interview the major Democratic presidential candidates for a 90-minute TV special. ''Samantha Smith Goes To Washington . . . Campaign '84'' will premiere Feb. 19 on the family pay-cable service, which has more than 600,000 subscribers.

Samantha and her father were in New York last week to appear on ABC-TV's ''Good Morning, America.'' Her lips still stained with rouge, Samantha appeared for this interview dressed in a warm, down-East down coat and a preppy sweater and skirt.

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She says she wants to discuss with the candidates such issues as children's rights, women's rights, child abuse, the Equal Rights Amendment, social security , and medicaid. And she espcially wants to know if they agree with her opinion that the drinking age for young people should be raised to 21.

Six candidates - Jesse Jackson, Ernest Hollings, Reubin Askew, Gary Hart, George McGovern, and Alan Cranston - have already accepted the Disney invitation to be interviewed by Samantha, either in Washington or in New Hampshire during the primary campaign. Walter Mondale and John Glenn have refused, but Samantha hasn't given up on them.

''I'm going to try to get them to change their minds,'' she says, with the same winsome grin that made her a newspaper and TV heroine throughout the world.

If Senator Glenn does change his mind, Samantha reveals that she has a particularly good question for him: ''Does he think he'll be able to go up in space while he is president?''

Although she is a good sixth-grade student, she feels a need to keep up her school work at the same time she is studying the records of the candidates she will interview. ''She still needs to practice her fractions,'' dad Arthur Smith interjects.

Has all the notoriety changed Samantha?

The hoopla over her summertime visit did not carry over into school. ''The kids treat me regularly,'' she says.

''Samantha demonstrated her maturity right from the start in writing the letter to Andropov,'' her father says. ''She has been surprisingly unaffected by all the publicity. In fact, if anything, she's less of a brat now.''

With a gasp, Samantha turns a reproachful eye on her father, who assures her he is just joshing.

How did she come to write the letter to Andropov?

''I read about nuclear bombs and I was scared. I want to be able to have a future too. I don't want to have it ruined. So, I asked mom to write a letter to Mr. Andropov, but she said she had things to do and why didn't I write one myself. So, I did.''

Samantha reveals one question she'd like to ask of each candidate. ''If aliens came down to Earth and told us they were going to destroy us no matter what we did, we would probably all get together as nations to defend ourselves. Why can't we get together now and defend ourselves against a nuclear war?''

Does Samantha think any of the candidates will have an answer?

She grins again and answers thoughtfully. ''No. But it might give them something to think about.''

Samantha says that for many years she wanted to study to become a veterinarian. ''But now, after all that has happened to me, I want to be a journalist.''

Newspaper or television?

''I'd like to start out on newspapers, and maybe I'll try TV later.'' Dan Rather on CBS is her favorite newscaster now.

Does she feel that the press harassed her and distorted the story of her Russian adventure?

''Oh, no,'' she says. ''I had no bad experiences. I did not feel harassed. It was their job and they needed to get the story. They didn't make many mistakes. They reported how I got to like the Russian people. And more people read about nuclear proliferation, so maybe it all did some good.''

The Russian trip led to another voyage for Samantha. Last month she was invited to visit Japan, where she addressed a children's symposium on science and technology. Now she says she regards herself as a representative of all children. And during the TV special, which will also be aired Feb. 20, 22, 23, 25, and 27, she hopes to ask the candidates questions sent to her by schoolchildren from across the country.

At the end of the series of interviews with the presidential candidates, will Samantha endorse one of them?

She looks at the interviewer with some disdain, her eyes circling the Monitor news office. ''Of course not,'' she says. ''After all, I am a reporter. I don't give answers; I ask questions.''

On June 29 Samantha Smith will be 12 years old. If she could choose two gifts , what would they be?

''A kitten,'' she says without hesitation, '' . . . and world peace.'' Then, she looks over at her father and goes on to talk about the need for a worldwide nuclear freeze.

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