WORLD

Encounter of a chilly kind

Jane O’Hara October 5 1981
WORLD

Encounter of a chilly kind

Jane O’Hara October 5 1981

Encounter of a chilly kind

WORLD

Jane O’Hara

They arrived for their scheduled showdown like two heavyweight prizefighters who were anxious to get down to toe-to-toe slugging. U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig arrived first. He was ushered into the U.S. mission to the United Nations by an overwhelming entourage of crew-cut Secret Service men, who had earlier cordoned off the block outside the building. Twenty minutes later, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, surrounded by his own square-jawed seconds, drove up in a flotilla of black limousines—an automotive display usually reserved for the untimely passing of a Mafia boss.

Then the protagonists squared off. After four hours and 40 minutes of “frank and businesslike” closed-door discussions, Round 1 was over. The decision, diplomatically announced in a joint communiqué: there will be a rematch. A Haig spokesman said the United States and the Soviet Union had agreed to begin talks Nov. 30, aimed at limiting theatre nuclear forces (medium-range nuclear missiles) in Europe. Code-named Operation Zero, the talks are likely to drag on for years with

each of the superpowers demanding concessions that the other is not prepared to grant. For their part, the Americans will be looking for the halting or, ideally, the dismantling of the Soviets’ 250 SS-20s (a triple warhead missile, each warhead carrying a halfmegaton of explosive) now aimed at Western Europe. In turn, the Soviets will attempt to derail American plans

to deploy 572 Pershing II and cruise; missiles in Britain, Italy and West Ger-S many in late 1983. :

The Haig-Gromyko talks came on the; heels of their respective foreign policy I addresses to the 36th session of the' General Assembly. They were the first high-level contacts between the Kremlin and the Reagan administration since it assumed office eight months ago. If

anything, the discussions signalled a shift in tone on the part of Washington, with the rhetoric of confrontation giving way to a rhetoric of conciliation tempered by caution. It was a production in part commissioned by the domestic clamor over defence spending in light of Reagan’s recent round of harsh budget cuts (see page 33). At the same time, the talks were forced by America’s jittery European allies. Washington’s friends fear that the hawkish Reaganites are not seriously pursuing arms talks with the Soviets—a critical pre-

condition for U.S. deployment of the Pershing-cruise arsenal when the deal was struck with the Carter administration in 1979.

Haig, who gingerly practised for the Gromyko encounter by debating a Kremlin surrogate in Washington, showed restraint leading up to the talks, taking only a few perfunctory swipes at Soviet “adventurism” in his General Assembly address. Reagan further calmed the waters in a letter to Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, which called for “restraint and reciprocity” in building a “stable and constructive relationship.”

If this blithe new American spirit

was welcomed in Western Europe’s capitals, the subtleties were all but lost on Gromyko, whose 24-year stint as foreign minister goes back to the days of John Foster Dulles. On the same day that Reagan’s letter dropped on Brezhnev’s Kremlin desk, Gromyko delivered to the UN a cold war tirade reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-thumping theatrics in 1959. As Afghan demonstrators burned the Soviet flag outside the black-glassed UN building, Gromyko reeled off charges of American interference around the globe from El Salvador to the Persian Gulf. Among other things, he accused the U.S. of “whipping up the arms race” in a bid for military superiority and castigated it for waging “undeclared war” in Afghanistan. That charge was verified last week in a strangely timed allegation by President Anwar Sadat that the Americans had been shipping Egyptian arms to the Afghan guerrillas through Pakistan. Even without Sadat’s claim, Gromyko’s charges were devalued by the coincidental release of the respected, Londonbased International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual report. It revealed a steadily increasing European imbal-

ance of medium-range missiles in favor of the Warsaw pact. The institute also reported that the Soviets have approximately three times as much nuclear firepower as NATO, only to add, with the Strangelovian logic of those who count warheads, that one “could not necessarily assume from this that NATO will suffer defeat in war.”

Haig and Gromyko were scheduled to meet again this week for a second round of talks, which UN officials believe will eventually lead back to the SALT bargaining table. The two rivals will again engage in nervous banter as they wait for the photographers to snap history. The serious fighting only begins when the doors are shut—and it may be months before anyone learns who threw the telling punch and how much longterm weight it carried. &lt£>