Tough slogging seen on Afghanistan, strategic missile talks. Beyond summit: hard work ahead
Washington — Warm personal relations. A thorough airing of issues. Remaining divisions, but progress toward a more productive summit in 1988. That seems to sum up the 1987 superpower summit, which ended here yesterday.
In their closing statements under rainy skies on the south lawn of the White House, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan stressed the progress that had been made during their three days of talks here.
Gorbachev also reported that the leaders had reached ``a kind of agenda for joint efforts in the future.'' He added: ``This puts the dialogue on a more predictable footing.''
Privately, United States and Soviet officials drew a more mixed picture of what had taken place here. US officials indicated that, Gorbachev's personal persuasion and composure notwithstanding, the Soviets had taken by-now-familiar positions on a number of key issues, and yielded little during the summit discussion. The Soviets, for their part, made similar complaints about the US.
The Soviets, however, are describing the progress here at the summit as just one step in a march toward a 1988 summit in Moscow. And they hinted that efforts would be accelerated to try to reach 50 percent reductions in the long-range nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers.
The close of the summit was unexpectedly put off as the two leaders reviewed the results of working groups of US and Soviet officials discussing arms control and regional issues, including Afghanistan.
But comments by Soviet officials made it clear that the discussions were characterized by hard slogging.
``We decided nothing'' on Afghanistan, said Nikolai Shishlin, deputy chief of the Soviet Central Committee's propaganda department. ``We have no timeble yet'' for withdrawal, he said, adding that the Soviet Union wants guarantees of noninterference into Afghanistan affairs.
In a similar vein, Soviet officials involved in discussions on nuclear arms reductions reported only minimal progress.
Soviet military chief of staff Sergei Akhromeyev met at the Pentagon twice with the chairman of the US military Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. William Crowe. He told reporters that the discussions were ``going on with difficulties, not easily.''
Raold Sagdeyev, head of the Soviet Space Research Institute and a member of the arms control working group, said US plans for a space-based Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) remained a major stumbling block in the talks.
``Unfortunately, the American administration did not want to look at this problem in a constructive, quantifiable way,'' he said.
Marshal Akhromeyev, responding to reporters' questions at the Pentagon, also said the Soviet Union wants assurances of continued US compliance with the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The Soviets have charged that some SDI tests would breach that treaty.
American officials were similarly lukewarm in their assessments of the behind-the-scenes bargaining during the summit. US Secretary of State George Shultz said yesterday, ``We see a little progress here and there,'' but he said that ``tough issues'' were under discussion.
US officials said that Gorbachev had shown a flinty edge during the summit. Indeed, Gorbachev seemed to confirm that assessment when he gave testy replies to questions from congressmen, senators, and the press on Soviet human rights practices. (The Soviet leader's wife, Raisa, also showed herself a confident, self-assured woman, unafraid to assert her own views, even if they bordered on the impolitic.)
``What moral right does America have to assume the pose of the teacher? Who has given it the right to teach moral lessons?'' Gorbachev asked a meeting of US editors, publishers, and broadcast executives convened by the Soviet Embassy.
Gorbachev said he told Reagan, ``Mr. President, you are not the prosecutor and I am not the accused. ... I am not on trial.''
The Soviet leader continued to surprise his American hosts with his savvy approach to public relations. He even stopped his armored ZIL limousine in front of a Washington building, and shook hands with startled onlookers. ``The guy is a PR genius,'' said one woman.
Mr. Sagdeyev indicated that the Soviets are acutely aware that Congress could pressure the administration into hewing to a narrow reading of the ABM Treaty, crimping the Pentagon's plans for SDI testing.
``We can't ignore the fact that the American Congress is also worried about what is permissible and what is not'' under the ABM Treaty, he said, noting that the ``concern of Congress'' would be a factor in ultimately resolving the impasse between the superpowers over the issue.
Soviet officials said privately that they will not push hard for resolution of the SDI standoff, as well as other issues, by the time the two leaders meet again in Moscow next year.