An arms tango in Moscow

ANN FINLAYSON April 27 1987

An arms tango in Moscow

ANN FINLAYSON April 27 1987

An arms tango in Moscow


The 4½-hour meeting in Moscow began with a theatrical flourish. As U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz prepared to talk with Mikhail Gorbachev on fresh approaches to arms control, he passed an envelope to the Soviet leader. Then, well within earshot of reporters covering the event, Shultz told Gorbachev that the letter contained an invitation to a summit meeting from President Ronald Reagan.

It took more than 24 hours before that notso-subtle signal could be officially confirmed. But by that time Kremlin officials had already broken a confidentiality agreement and announced what Gorbachev had to offer at the meeting: new proposals on strategic and space weaponry, and a controversial new offer to remove short-range nuclear missiles from Europe within a year. The Soviet leader also made it clear that he, too, was ready for a summit. But he said that it had to include the signing of a treaty to remove all intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe and lead to agreement on “key principles” of other arms control issues.

Although arms control was the main item on the agenda, Shultz spent much of his three-day visit dealing with other pressing issues. He signalled the U.S. desire for a more liberal Soviet emigration policy, in particular for Jews. And he broached the delicate issue of spying. In the past four months three U.S Marine guards have been charged with espionage after they were allegedly seduced by Soviet women into letting KGB agents into U.S. embassies in the Soviet Union. And each nation has accused the other of planting listening devices in their respective new embassies now under construction in Moscow and Washington.

Shultz made little progress on those issues, but hopes for a Reagan-Gorbachev summit remained high. It would be the third meeting between the two superpower leaders in less than two years. And the prospect of staging it in the United States later this year

raised cautious hopes around the world that Reagan and Gorbachev could put the failures of their last meeting—in Reykjavik, Iceland, last October—behind them.

Shultz immediately took Gorbachev’s newest arms reduction offer to Brussels. There he briefed the United States’ NATO allies. By week’s end, it was clear that, although agreement to remove all intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe was a definite possibility, a similar zero-option agreement on short-range missiles, with ranges of between 300 and 600 miles, was not.

Indeed, the European allies were clearly concerned about Gorbachev’s offer of a mutual ban on short-range missiles. Talking to Canadian reporters after the Shultz briefing in Brus-

sels, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark said that “obvious differences” had surfaced between the Americans and the Europeans, and among the European allies themselves. The Europeans, he said, were worried that a short-range pact “would lead to a decoupling of the United States from Europe and to de-nuclearization”—a development that would leave them vulnerable to the larger conventional forces of the Communist Warsaw Pact. And in a strong indication that NATO might turn down the Gorbachev offer, Clark declared: “No one is contemplating denuclearization.”

Other NATO foreign ministers were even more explicit. Said Britain’s Sir Geoffrey Howe: “The harsh facts of life—geography and Soviet advantages in conventional and chemical forces —make nuclear deterrence and flexible response indispensible for the foreseeable future.” And Holland’s Hans van den Broek said that a short-range missile pact, accompanying an intermediaterange agreement, would result in “two rungs of the NATO ladder being ripped away.”

As a result, defence analysts say, NATO’s answer to Gorbachev on shortrange missiles—which Clark said would be delivered “before the summer”—will likely be a counterproposal for small but equal numbers of those weapons to be deployed by both sides.

Washington officials say that the Soviets currently deploy 130 shortrange missiles in Europe while the United States has none. That count does not include 73 West German conventional missiles, with a range of 400 miles, which can quickly be converted to carry U.S. nuclear warheads.

As a condition for agreement on the middle-range missiles, Shultz had been

insisting that the United States retain the right to build up its short-range armory to meet the Soviet total. Gorbachev’s unexpected offer to remove Soviet short-range missiles—and at the same time eliminate all battlefield nuclear missiles—was widely interpreted as a concession. But both Shultz and Reagan were careful to defer a response until holding consultations with NATO allies. In a speech in Los Angeles, the President said, “We will not sacrifice their vital interests just to sign an agreement.”

Despite the problems over shortrange missiles, Shultz was clearly satisfied at the “very considerable headway” that was made in Moscow toward

concluding an intermediate-range pact. “It should be possible to work out an agreement in this field,” he told a news conference before leaving the Soviet capital. Gorbachev said that Moscow was willing to move quickly on its new proposals, which included a softer approach to Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative, or Star Wars—the issue that blocked agreement at last fall’s Iceland summit.

During his time in the Soviet capital Shultz provided a pointed demonstration of U.S. commitment to increased Soviet Jewish emigration. He attended a traditional Passover dinner, or seder, at the official residence of U.S. ambassador Jack Matlock. There, more than 50 prominent would-be émigrés and their families had gathered for the ceremonial feast, with wine and food flown in on

the U.S. delegation’s plane. Wearing a white skull cap, Shultz, who is not Jewish, moved from table to table greeting guests whose names have long been rallying cries against Soviet emigration policies—Ida Nudel, Josef Begun, Vladimir Slepak and Viktor Brailovsky.

Shultz presented Begun, who was released from his third prison term in February, with a bound volume of the Haggadah, the readings and prayers that accompany the seder. He also gave Slepak, a radio engineer who has been trying to leave the Soviet Union for 17 years, a framed photograph of grandchildren in the United States whom he has never seen. “A picture is better than nothing,” Shultz said.

In the past U.S. officials have declined to meet with Jewish dissidents during arms talks in the Soviet capital, clearly fearing that such contact might jeopardize delicate negotiations. But a slight increase in the number of exit visas granted in recent weeks apparently prompted a change in policy. Indeed, after bringing Jewish emigration almost to a standstill from a high of 51,000 in 1979, Soviet officials recently announced a more liberal policy.

Shultz also attempted to restore morale to members of his Moscow embassy staff. Many of them seemed to be still shaken by the revelation last month that U.S. Marine guards had allowed Soviet agents access to the building’s secure areas in return for sexual favors from Soviet women. Shultz and his aides arrived at the em-

bassy bearing several gallons of ice cream and an assortment of sauces. Clad in an apron, the secretary of state dished out the ice cream and urged the diplomats and their families to eat as much as they wanted. “We have our ups and our downs,” he told them, and “right now, with our espionage difficulties, we have our downs.”

Indeed, the “downs” were not yet finished. A day later the Pentagon revealed that four more marines who had been stationed in Communist Bloc countries would be recalled from Austria for questioning, that a fifth would be replaced for violating “local security regulations” in Vienna and that a sixth had been recalled to Washington

to appear as a witness at a pretrial hearing for one of the marines charged with spying.

On a visit to the new U.S. embassy building, Shultz complained that the structure was “honeycombed” with listening devices. For their part, Soviet officials said that he had failed to prove his charges. But for both sides, the main preoccupation remained arms—and a summit on American soil. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevadnardze—displaying the Kremlin’s new mood of openness—told reporters that a summit was “quite realistic.” And the Soviets made it clear it was now up to Reagan—and his NATO allies—to make it happen.