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Peace groups view summit. US organizations try to make their influence felt in Geneva

By Peter OsterlundStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 15, 1985


US peace groups are preparing for next week's meeting in Geneva between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as if it were the most portentous summit between the two superpowers in history. The groups' goal is twofold: to try to pressure the two leaders into coming away from the summit with concrete solutions to the arms race, and to revitalize a flagging peace movement in the United States.

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Reagan administration officials have repeatedly tried to lower public expectations about the meeting's outcome. Nevertheless, antinuclear strategists are plunging ahead with plans to make this summit the most publicly scrutinized ever. ``It puts enormous pressure on political leaders to come up with concrete solutions rather than face-saving talk,'' explains Dr. Bernard Lown, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School and co-chairman of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW ), the group awarded the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

Antinuclear groups have paid for slick radio and television spots to trumpet their presummit advice. They are taking out bold full-page ads in magazines and major metropolitan newspapers. They are rounding up sympathetic arms control advisers from previous administrations to tout a proposed comprehensive nuclear-test ban and to pan Mr. Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Across the country, scores of grass-roots organizations have choreographed the sorts of publicity-grabbing exercises that are the m ovement's hallmark.

Organizers are working doubly hard not only because, in their view, the summit offers an opportunity for a breakthrough in superpower relations: Geneva also presents peace activists with an opportunity to shift the movement back into high gear.

As little as two years ago, antinuclear groups seemed to have tapped deep wells of concern about nuclear war. The ``Euromissile'' protests mobilized millions of Europeans against NATO deployment of US Pershing II and cruise missiles. In addition, demonstrators in Western Europe and in the US demanded an immediate freeze on the manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons. In the US those demonstrations culminated in a 1982 march through New York's Central Park, in which more than 1 million people parti cipated.

But the freeze drive largely fizzled, and many saw a final, symbolic blow to the anti-Euromissile movement in the Dutch government's decision earlier this month to allow deployment of US cruise missiles in the Netherlands.

``We don't get the million-person demonstrations in Central Park anymore,'' concedes David Cortwright, executive director of SANE, an antinuclear activist group.

``Public concern has tapered off,'' says William Kincade, formerly director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington, D.C.-based arms control group, and now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ``That period of public concern in the early '80s didn't work. It didn't change the policies of the Reagan administration. [Among antinuclear organizations] there's a sense of regrouping and trying to figure out what works and what doesn't and why.''