A Soviet arms bid and old rabbits

MIKHAIL Gorbachev's dramatic announcement that he will freeze the deployment of Soviet intermediate-range missiles for a few months to give the United States a chance to halt its missile deployment in Europe is a shrewd public-relations maneuver. However, it is reportedly not a new proposal as it was disclosed some time ago to the US negotiators at the current Geneva arms talks and was originally offered by Brezhnev before the 1983 nuclear-weapons talks broke down. Such a freeze would, of course, perpetuate the present substantial Soviet missile superiority in Europe. Gorbachev's present offer seems directly linked to an article that appeared last week in the East German newspaper Neues Deutschland. This article also contains no change in the Soviet position and appears to have been leaked by the Soviets in a propaganda move to show they are offering new and constructive suggestions, while at the same time getting around the pledge by both sides to keep the negotiations confidential. This Soviet gambit recalls an episode that occurred during the US-Soviet negotiations in the Eisenhower years, when from 1953 to 1957 I served as coordinator of plans and policies for our major conferences with the Russians.

The incident took place during the Berlin four power conference which dealt largely with European security and the reunification of Germany. The conference was at foreign-minister level with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles representing the US and Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov, ably assisted by his strong right arm Andrei Gromyko, representing the Soviet Union.

The Western side (US, U.K., and France) originally estimated that the conference would not last more than two weeks, by which time it would be clear whether there was any chance for real progress. After almost 10 days, it was apparent the Soviets would not agree to any proposal that would move Germany toward unification in freedom.

At this point late one evening as the conference was about to adjourn for the day, Mr. Molotov raised his hand and said he had a ``new'' proposal to offer. He distributed voluminous Russian texts to the conference participants (but at the same time his staff distributed these texts in English, French, German, and Spanish to journalists waiting in the press room). Molotov then spoke for almost an hour. By the time he had finished and the consecutive translations that followed were over, it was far too late to analyze and respond that night to the Soviet texts. Subsequent study showed there was no change in the Soviet position. It was simply a rehash and rearrangement of previous Soviet proposals. However, the next morning the ``new Soviet proposals'' monopolized the headlines in the free-world press. In the two weeks that followed, Mr. Molotov repeated this tactic several times.

Exasperated, Mr. Dulles finally told the conference he was tired of having ``Mr. Molotov pull a new rabbit out of his briefcase every few days just before a session ended and place it on the conference table.''

Now it so happened that on the same evening that Dulles made this remark it was the United States's turn to act as host at a small informal US-Soviet dinner with five on a side. Before dinner was served I was talking with Molotov, whose cool and sardonic but acute sense of humor was always much in evidence on such occasions. A waiter passed a tray of raw celery, carrots, and radishes which Mr. Dulles always served. Mr. Molotov refused this offering and allowed as how he would prefer caviar. I ordered caviar, but at the same time with a smile suggested that he might like nonetheless to take some of the carrots and celery home with him for his ``rabbits'' to which Dulles had referred earlier that evening.

Mr. Molotov's eyes lit up like stars on a cold winter night. ``Ah,'' he said with a frosty smile, ``I always thought Dulles was a very intelligent man, but now I begin to have serious doubts.'' ``Why?'' I asked, playing the straight man for him. ``Because,'' he said, ``Dulles referred this evening to the new rabbits that I put on the conference table every few days. If he were really intelligent, he would see that I always use that same old rabbit!''

According to Western European analysts, the ``new'' Soviet proposals leaked to the Neues Deutschland include a freeze on nuclear weapons, a halt in the deployment of new NATO medium range weapons in Europe and a ban on space research.

In other words nothing new yet -- ``just the same old rabbit!''

Douglas MacArthur II, a lecturer and consultant on international affairs, has been the US ambassador to Japan, Belgium, Austria, and Iran.

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