PRESIDENT Bush meets today with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Bermuda, marking the midpoint in a 10-day stretch of consultations with key allied leaders before his May 30 summit with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr. Bush saw Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney earlier this week, and will meet French President Fran,cois Mitterrand on April 19. The US and its NATO allies have much to discuss: US-Soviet relations have hit a rocky patch after months of improvement. Major arms control agreements may not be ready for initialing soon, after all.
There's an ``awful lot to be done'' before next month's superpower summit, Bush said Tuesday in Toronto.
The future of Germany is one subject likely to come up as Bush and Thatcher meet today and tomorrow. They'll be discussing an alliance reaction to the new Soviet proposal that a united Germany be part of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, at least for a while.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze floated this idea when he was in Washington last week. It's not clear exactly how this peculiar arrangement would work, but Soviet officials in Moscow say it would include a transition period of five to seven years, during which US and Soviet troops stationed on German soil would be gradually reduced.
At the end of this time only token forces of noncombat superpower troops would remain. NATO and the Warsaw Pact would melt away, and Germany would be melded into a unitary all-European security structure, in the Soviet proposal.
The Soviets oppose the US view that a united Germany must be part of NATO. Until now, Moscow has insisted the new Germany be neutral. US officials first heard of the dual-membership idea at Mr. Shevardnadze's post-visit press conference.
Since then, the more they've heard, the less they like it. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater on Wednesday called the idea ``another formula for neutrality.''
US officials insist that German membership in NATO is the best way to provide political stability in Europe for all nations concerned. Mr. Fitzwater said that one of Bush's primary topics with Mulroney, Thatcher, and Mitterrand will be ``discussing a definition of NATO and how it will proceed in the years ahead, what its mission will be.''
The prospects for a Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) arms reduction treaty is also high on Bush's list of things to discuss with the allies. Until Shevardnadze came to town, CFE had seemed on track for completion sometime later this year. But the Soviet foreign minister left the impression that the USSR might be digging in its heels on CFE issues that NATO had thought were nearly resolved.
Troop limits is one such problem. In February in Ottawa, Shevardnadze agreed to a US proposal that both superpowers limit themselves to 195,000 troops in central Europe. The US, under this agreement, would be allowed 30,000 more troops in European nations outside the central core, such as Britain and Turkey.
Now Shevardnadze has left the impression with US officials that the Soviets will not go along with this deal unless there are overall limits on NATO and Warsaw Pact troops - an indirect method for capping the German army. Further complicating matters, the two sides haven't even agreed on a definition of what constitutes ``troops.''
That will be harder than it sounds. ``What do you do for marines at embassies?,'' says a US official. ``Paramilitary troops, border troops, and reserves are an issue, too.''
Similarly, the two sides have yet to agree on a treaty definition of ``tank,'' among other weapons, even though they've agreed to numerical tank limits.
Prospects for a strategic nuclear arms reduction (START) treaty will also be discussed by Bush and his allies. Shevardnadze's Washington visit saw apparent backsliding on START progress.
The US thought the Soviets had agreed that the tricky issue of sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) would be handled informally, with both sides simply declaring how many they intended to deploy at the time a START treaty was signed. In Washington, Shevardnadze apparently indicated that the Soviets are interested in a more formal and binding approach. ``On SLCMs we don't know what the story is,'' says the US official.
It's not clear whether the Soviet moves are negotiating tactics, or represent a real slowdown necessitated by a need on the part of President Gorbachev to placate his own hard-liners.
``We should bear in mind, though, as we look at both the START talks and the CFE talks that since 1985 and the emergence of Gorbachev, the Western countries have been the beneficiary of a rather steady stream of Soviet concessions in arms control, and this is what has dried up or slowed down,'' says Jonathan Dean, arms control adviser for the Union of Concerned Scientists.