Reagan: compromise at home for gains abroad

There was an agreement, one could almost call it a concordat, in Washington this week, between the White House and Congress which cleared the way for a lot of possible international business important to others. It came in the form of an agreement on the terms of the military budget for 1988. The United States Congress will provide funds only for such nuclear-weapons research and testing as will keep the US inside the traditional interpretation of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Thus, there is to be no breaching of the stricter interpretations of the treaty for another year. This smooths the path of the pending treaty that would ban medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe. That, in turn, clears the way for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Washington in early December.

It further clears the way for, or removes one block to, talks on a cut in the long-range intercontinental nuclear weapons.

It was one of three changes in Washington which made the ides of November more than usually interesting. The changes are to some extent connected.

Alongside the informal concordat on nuclear weapons was a White House retreat on tax increases in the next budget. That was the price the President had to pay to get his military budget through Congress, and to get Congress to cut back to some degree on social-entitlement programs.

There will be new federal revenue (the amount not settled at this writing) in the new budget.

Add that there was also during this same almost momentous week in Washington an itemized concordat between Secretary of State George Shultz and Jim Wright, Speaker of the House.

The language was imprecise. But behind ambiguous wording was acquiescence by the Reagan administration to the Central American peace plan. There will be no new military appropriations for the Nicaraguan contra rebels while the peace plan is being tried and tested.

In effect, President Reagan has retreated on taxes (they will go up), on Nicaragua (the contras will remain a force, but will have no guarantee of more weapons after supplies now in the pipeline are delivered), and on ``star wars'' (research and ground testing will continue, but nothing will be allowed that breaches the traditional interpretation of the treaty or would block the way toward an ultimate strategic arms limitation treaty).

He has fallen back from these positions so far - to the chagrin of the far right in his constitutency - that it now seems inevitable Mr. Gorbachev will come to Washington in December, sign the treaty on intermediate nuclear forces, and possibly lay the groundwork with Mr. Reagan for a subsequent treaty cutting back on long-range strategic missiles. And it now seems more likely than not that Nicaragua's war will some day end in a compromise that leaves Daniel Ortega Saavedra on top.

Will, that is, unless Mr. Gorbachev in Moscow is in more trouble than Western observers yet think he is. That he is in new trouble became apparent this past week when the Communist Party daily Pravda printed some remarkably critical things about his policies.

It seems reasonably clear that Mr. Gorbachev had been carrying glasnost (openness) too far. He has had to accept the demotion of one of his strongest and most reformist supporters in the Politburo. And he has had to read a half-page article in Pravda asserting that ``playing into democracy may result in catastrophe.''

At least Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev can mutually commiserate about their respective domestic difficulties when they meet.

But Mr. Reagan could expect little sympathy from his old friend, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London. Mrs. Thatcher made a speech this week. In the speech was a lecture unmistakably pointed toward Mr. Reagan. She was preaching ``prudent finance and living within your means.'' She has practiced those ancient virtues.

Mrs. Thatcher is sitting on top of a balanced budget and a balanced trade account - a solvent nation. She really had only one serious concern this week. Her treasury holds about $20 billion in such things as US Treasury notes. She has seen their value plummet of late with the fall of the dollar.

Mrs. Thatcher can wish that Mr. Reagan would balance his budget, both by curbing spending and by always taxing enough to cover the spending that can't be cut. This week she did not hesitate to preach to Mr. Reagan what she has practiced so successfully at home.

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