Arms control focus now shifts to Geneva. Momentum from Iceland summit stressed
Put on the defensive by the breakup of the Iceland summit without an arms agreement, the Reagan administration is now pursuing two broad objectives: In the short term it seeks to prevent the Soviets from making propaganda points in Europe over ``star wars.''Skip to next paragraph
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In the longer term it wants to recapture at the arms talks in Geneva the tentative gains made in Reykjavik.
``We believe there is no going back on what was developed at this meeting and we look forward to continued negotiations which will build on the progress achieved at Reykjavik,'' the White House declared yesterday. Officials also note Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's statement that the work done in Iceland cleared the way for further movement toward significant arms reductions.
Administration officials pinpoint two areas where progress in Iceland could lead to early agreements: reductions in intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) and limitations on nuclear testing. But the administration has yet to give its Geneva negotiators new bargaining orders.
``Over the short term we'll have a propaganda war,'' one official says. ``A little dust has to settle, and we must evaluate what has happened.''
It is not clear whether the Soviet leader would separate INF from the more difficult issues of strategic weapons and the President's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), as star wars is formally known. In Reykjavik Mr. Gorbachev startled the Americans with concessions -- including on INF -- but these all appeared to be tied to limiting SDI to the laboratory. The Soviet leader, as well as President Reagan, indicates that he wants to keep the arms dialogue going, however.
``During two days of negotiation and discussion, all the pieces of the dialogue ended up on the table and revealed some opportunities,'' says a US official who was in Iceland. ``All the cards show where we could go.''
The Soviets could not go back on their agreement on INF and be credible, the official says. But even if Gorbachev proves willing to negotiate an INF agreement -- and he agreed tentatively in Iceland to limit medium-range warheads to 100 for each side -- the two sides would still have to iron out the issues of short-range missiles, duration of the interim agreement, and verification procedures.
Public reaction in the US to the President's performance in Reykjavik appears to be supportive. But diplomatic and arms experts suggest that, once there is widespread understanding of the issues, Mr. Reagan will come under growing criticism for what are regarded as ``dreamland'' positions on intercontinental forces.
Incomprehensible to many arms experts, for instance, is Reagan's proposal for a total elimination of ballistic missiles in 10 years, followed by the deployment of space-based defense systems. Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia points out that such disarmament would leave the US confronting superior Soviet conventional forces, an outcome the European allies would hardly welcome.
US Secretary of State George Shultz said this week that an agreement could not take effect unless China, Britain, and France agreed to give up their ballistic missiles -- which many experts think is a pipe dream. National-security adviser John Poindexter says the superpowers would not be left without nuclear weapons, because they would still have bombers and cruise missiles. But these would be no match for ballistic missiles.