Thawing out the Cold War

BOB LEVIN October 13 1986

Thawing out the Cold War

BOB LEVIN October 13 1986

Thawing out the Cold War


In the carefully coded language of diplomacy, it will only be a meeting. Both U.S. and Soviet officials have taken pains to avoid the word summit—so as not to arouse unrealistic expectations. But no matter what the billing is, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will sit down together in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Oct. 11 and 12. The two leaders, speaking almost simultaneously last week in Washington and Moscow, announced the surprise meeting the day after a complicated and controversial deal freed U.S. journalist Nicholas Daniloff, whose month-long detention in Moscow on spy charges had chilled

U.S.-Soviet relations. The deal also freed Reagan and Gorbachev to make their date in Reykjavik. And there, despite the deflationary rhetoric, they plainly hope to make progress toward an arms control agreement—one they could formally sign at a full-fledged summit in Washington later this year.

The meeting in Iceland will be the first between Reagan and Gorbachev since their get-acquainted summit in Geneva last November. Each man will go to Reykjavik under apparent pres-

sure from hard-liners in his own government not to trade away strategic advantage. The apparent attempt to entrap a Canadian journalist last week—shortly after Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze left Ottawa after an official visit—raised the possibility that elements in the Soviet Union were attempting to subvert Gorbachev’s overtures to the West (page 34). In the United States, even many politicians and pundits who welcomed the improved prospects for an arms accord questioned whether Reagan had paid too high a price. Analysts asked which side, in the U.S.-Soviet eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation over Daniloff, had blinked. “They blinked,”

Reagan boasted. But the next day he reconsidered, saying, “I shouldn’t have said that. No comment.”

Many critics were not so reticent. “The Soviets believe they have won this round,” said Republican Congressman Jack Kemp of New York, “and that is the wrong kind of environment going into a critical high-level meeting next week.” But Reagan supporters say that he found an honorable way to free Daniloff and keep arms talks on track. The American public seemed to agree:

in a New York Times/

CBS poll, 55 per cent of respondents said that they approved of the release of Gennady Zakharov, a 39-year-old Soviet United Nations physicist and accused spy whose release last week was clearly part of the Daniloff arrangement.

Reagan insisted that “there was no connection between these two releases.” He said Zakharov had been traded for Soviet dissident Yuri Orlov, 62, who is to be freed this week. But even with Orlov included, the essential Daniloff-for-Zakharov swap was impossible to conceal —particularly after Zakharov’s plane left Washington’s Dulles Airport just 20 minutes before Daniloff’s touched down. As Democratic Representative Stephen Solarz of New York put it, “If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, walks like a duck, it is a duck.”

Reagan also said that the meeting in Iceland— a location chosen because it lies about midway between the two superpowers (page 30)— was not part of the Daniloff deal. But they were certainly connected. Reagan and Gorbachev had agreed in principle at Geneva to meet this year in Washington. Soviet officials said that Gorbachev, anxious to ensure that the U.S. summit would produce an arms accord, proposed a preparatory meeting six months ago but got no response. Then, on Aug. 23 U.S. federal agents arrested Zakharov in New York. A week later, apparently in retaliation, Soviet agents in Moscow seized Daniloff, a 51-year-old correspondent for U.S. News & World Report (page 32). When Reagan protested to Shevardnadze on Sept. 19, the foreign minister gave him a letter from Gorbachev again suggesting a meeting. Reagan accepted—but only if Moscow freed Daniloff.

That set off a flurry of meetings between Shevardnadze and U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz in Washington and New York. Schultz, trying to avoid the appearance of a Danilofffor-Zakharov trade, suggested that the Soviets also free several dissidents. The Soviets resisted. Finally, in a three-hour meeting on Sept. 28—with

Shevardnadze scheduled to leave two days later on an official visit to Ottawa—the Soviets gave ground. However, they offered not several dissidents but only Orlov, who had been exiled to Siberia for his work on monitoring Soviet compliance with the 1975 Helsinki human rights accords.

The United States agreed to the arrangement, and the following day Daniloff and his wife, Ruth, left Moscow. They reached Washington the next day—a few hours after Zakharov walked into a court in New York and pleaded no contest to espionage charges. The plea is not an admission of guilt, but does allow the defendant to be sentenced. The judge put Zakharov on five years’ probation, then freed him. Reagan aides point to the fact that Zakharov was convicted—while Daniloff did not have to stand trial—as evidence that they did not equate the two cases. Meanwhile, Orlov and his wife, Irina, were expected to leave for the United States by Oct. 7.

Still unresolved is a dispute over the Soviets’ UN mission, which U.S. officials say is rife with spies. Last March

Washington ordered a one-third cutback in the mission’s personnel over two years and, three weeks ago, responding to Daniloff’s arrest, they ordered the expulsion of 25 named diplomats by Oct. 1. Last week the United States extended that deadline by two weeks, and Shevardnadze threatened Soviet retaliation if the issue was not resolved soon. Reagan and Gorbachev are expected to take up the matter at their Iceland meeting.

No matter what the outcome of the UN issue, the Daniloff affair has already done Reagan damage among his conservative constituency. The sniping began almost four weeks ago when Washington and Moscow agreed to release Zakharov and Daniloff into the custody of their respective embassies while they awaited trial. But it was the final deal that especially incensed right wingers. Conservatives say that, in his meetings with Shevardnadze, Shultz used aides who were soft on the Soviets while failing to consult with such hard-liners as Defence Secretary

Caspar Weinberger. Patrick Buchanan, the White House communications director and a staunch right winger, was said to be considering resigning.

Outside the White House, Howard Phillips, president of the Conservative Caucus, an extreme right-wing faction of the Republican party, called Shultz “a complete sellout.” He added: “This deal gives the lie to everything Reagan seemed to stand for over the years.” Reagan is an old foe of arms control agreements, but according to Robert Pranger of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing Washington think tank, Reagan’s decision to go to Iceland signals a clear change in policy. Said Pranger: “He is prepared to make agreements despite the fact that there are those in his entourage, and the wider Republican party, who feel that he is playing with the devil.” That willingness may be partly an attempt to establish his statesman’s credentials for the history books. And even short of success, Reagan’s peacemaking efforts may help Republican con-

gressional candidates in November with an American public that clearly favors arms control.

For Gorbachev, an arms agreement would free funds for an assault on the country’s stagnant economy and low living standards. About 20 per cent of the population lives in communal housing, shortages of consumer goods are common, and even in the Moscow area some women still wash their clothes in the Moskva River. Gorbachev’s plan foresees 4.7-percent average economic growth per year until the end of the century, although Western analysts say that the goal is unrealistic. The Soviets’ main concern is to halt the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars, program. Although some critics in the West question whether such a system is even possible, the Soviets clearly believe that it is. And if they have to invest in an arms race in space, they will have little left for an economic overhaul.

As a result, the Soviets have been insisting on about 15 more years of adherence to the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty, which prohibits deployment of space-based systems. Washington has been resisting that demand. On the other hand, the two sides have been making progress at arms talks in Geneva on the issue of medium-range missiles in Western Europe. The Unites States, which had plans to install 572 Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe, now has 108 Pershings and 128 cruise missiles there, each with one warhead. The Soviets have about 270 triple-warhead SS-20 missiles aimed at Western Europe. The two sides have been talking about limiting warheads to 100 each. But the Soviets have rejected a U.S. demand that Moscow also reduce its number of warheads targeted on Asia to 100 from the current 513.

In Iceland, Reagan and Gorbachev are expected to talk about other matters as well, from cultural exchanges to Soviet Jewry. But topic No. 1 will clearly be arms control. Gorbachev “wants to appear tough in Iceland,” said a Western diplomat in Moscow. “He is no bleeding-heart liberal.” Neither is Reagan. But each man, for his own reasons, has already taken several public steps in the direction of arms control. The question now is whether the next step, the Iceland pre-summit, will bring enough of a cold war thaw to lead to a real summit in Washington later this year—and a meaningful arms accord.