Europe applauds Reagan's talk

The NATO allies have finally gotten their act together. The battle for President Reagan's ear has been won by the moderate old European hands in the State Department, and not by the Europe-baiters in the Defense Department.

With ''zero option'' - a waiving of the new NATO missiles planned for mid-'80 s deployment if the Soviet Union will dismantle its existing equivalent missiles - the West finally has a position on European nuclear arms control that is defensible morally and simply, before the broad public and peace protesters alike.

Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was one of the first European leaders to respond to Mr. Reagan's first major foreign policy speech. ''This is a most important initiative and I believe that it will receive a warm welcome not only in political circles but in the hearts and minds of people across Europe.''

West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt endorsed Mrs. Thatcher's remarks and said Mr. Reagan's speech would provide a ''a very firm basis'' for his coming talks with Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev.

It is freely acknowledged that the American-Soviet negotiations about European nuclear weapons opening in Geneva Nov. 30 will be tough and long. It is fully acknowledged that the popular image of Mr. Reagan as a gunslinging cowboy cannot change overnight to that of a man of peace.

But it is felt here that the tide has turned. Reagan has already amply fulfilled his electoral mandate from US voters to use tough language on the Russians; he now can afford to fulfill his presidential mandate as leader of the entire free world and reassure the European public that he is responsible in seeking peace and arms control.

A delighted West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt informed his Social Democratic Party about Reagan's speech even before the speech was delivered. West Germany could be pleased with its role, he said, in getting the Americans back to the negotiating table with the Russians. West Germany could also be pleased that its advocacy of ''zero option'' has led to American adoption of this negotiating position.

In reviewing the intensive American-European consultation that preceded Reagan's speech, one sober American diplomat of few illusions said simply, ''The last eight to nine months have been a masterpiece of alliance consultations. This is the way it should work.''

The last stage of consultations involved a whirlwind European tour by undersecretaries from Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Other NATO members were kept closely informed in Washington.

The fact that ''zero option'' became the main US negotiating position by a curious route - with Defense Department hard-liners suddenly supporting it in the expectation that Moscow would reject it and thus break up the arms control talks - bothers no one in Europe. The important thing is that zero option was, in fact, adopted.

For the West Germans the timing of Reagan's speech just prior to the Bonn visit of Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev is especially welcome. For once the West is seen as taking the diplomatic initiative, and not leaving a monopoly on peace propaganda to the Russians.

In particular, the new Reagan policy strengthens Chancellor Schmidt's hand in getting his main message across to Brezhnev. That is, diplomatic sources say, that the Soviet Union is being offered a unique opportunity in history. NATO has planned new missiles - but before deploying them starting two years hence, it is offering Moscow every chance to negotiate them away. Schmidt will assure the Soviet President, the sources say, that Reagan is absolutely sincere and trustworthy in proposing a major slowing down of the arms race.

But if no arms control agreement is reached in the two years before deployment, Schmidt has been stressing in recent days, West Germany will go ahead with the NATO deployments as scheduled, beginning in late 1983. The Russians should have no illusions, the chancellor will be telling his guest, that they can simply stall on arms control and hope that the European peace movements will drain the nuclear resolve of European governments.

Reagan's speech is also welcomed in Europe as ending the period of rather amazing disarray in Washington's statements on planning strategies for nuclear warfare in Europe.

Government officials here were appalled that Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, and others let themselves be drawn out on hypothetical scenarios. They are glad that the emphasis is now back where they feel it should be - on the deterrence of nuclear war altogether rather than speculation on the fighting of nuclear war.

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