Challenge from Berlin

BOB LEVIN June 22 1987

Challenge from Berlin

BOB LEVIN June 22 1987

Challenge from Berlin


Rarely has the former actor had a more carefully selected set, or one richer in symbolism. As President Ronald Reagan stood on the speaker’s platform in West Berlin on Friday, June 12, the columns of the Brandenburg Gate rose behind him, a past monument to German unity.

Also in the background, visible through a bulletproof window, was the present emblem of a divided Germany —the Berlin Wall. And behind that lay East Berlin. On the wall itself, a U.S. official had painted over graffiti saying “Reagan go home,” but had left one saying “Russians out of Afghanistan.”

With all the props in place, Reagan made the most of his opportunity.

Cheered by an invitation-only audience of 40,000 on the West side—and guarded by 10,000 riot police—he insisted that there was in fact only one Berlin.

And he declared that if Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were serious about his celebrated new openness, or glasnost, he could demonstrate it with a singular act. “Mr. Gorbachev,” said Reagan, “open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Reagan’s address, which echoed president John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner ” speech of 1962, was designed to underline U.S. political and military support for West Germany on Berlin’s 750th anniversary. As the climax of the President’s 10-day European tour, it was also part of an intense effort to counter Gorbachev’s growing peacemaker image in the West and to boost Reagan’s international credibility in the wake of the damaging Iran-contra affair. But the potent symbolism of Berlin could not erase the less forceful image Reagan had projected earlier in the week. At the three-day summit of the seven leading western industrial nations in Venice, he failed to dominate the economic agenda and won only wa-

tered-down declarations on such political issues as terrorism and the Persian Gulf (page 21). And at a photo session with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the hard-of-hearing Reagan appeared puzzled when a reporter asked him whether the United States and

Canada were close to a free trade deal. Mulroney quietly prompted him, saying, “Our negotiators are,” and Reagan said, “Our negotiators are at that now.”

On the positive side, foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting last week in Reykjavik, Iceland, gave Reagan the support he sought to negotiate an arms-control deal with the Soviets. After weeks of hesitation, the ministers approved a proposal to remove from Europe all intermediateand short-range nuclear weapons —with ranges between 300 and 3,000 miles —the so-called double-zero option. The NATO statement said that an accord should be “an integral part” of ne-

gotiations in other areas of arms control, including strategic nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and conventional forces. In Venice, Reagan said that he now saw an “increased opportunity” for a summit meeting with Gorbachev in Washington, at

which a double-zero pact could be


Reagan’s visit to West Berlin was his second in five years. Like the previous one, it was marked by anti-U.S. demonstrations. On the night before his arrival, 20,000 demonstrators

marched through the city’s fashionable Kurfürstendamm and the slum district of Kreuzberg to protest his visit and U.S. policy in Central America. The march turned violent when black-clad anarchists began throwing stones and fire bombs and were confronted by police in riot gear, who 2 wielded batons and i shot off tear gas. § Afterward, police Q banned rallies that had

been planned for the following day. They cordoned off large sections of the city and deployed mounted police, helicopters and even frogmen, who explored the depths of the Spree River near the Brandenburg Gate. And Reagan, who did not wear a bulletproof vest as he had on his last visit to the city, made his rounds in an armored limousine flown in specially from Washington. Still, clashes continued and police arrested a total of 250 demonstrators.

But despite the threat of trouble from the left, Reagan was most interested in appeasing the right. Many West German rightists argue that Washington and the other NATO countries forced the Bonn government into accepting the double-zero missile proposal. They maintain that the deal would leave their country vulnerable to Soviet tactical nuclear weapons and conventional forces—and could herald an eventual U.S. pullout from Europe. In response, they have threatened to seek an accommodation with the Soviet Union that would unite the two Germanies under a neutralist banner. “We feel betrayed,” said Jiirgen Todenhoefer, a defence spokesman for Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s conservative party. “The U.S. is forcing us to find other security arrangements, and that will strengthen neutralism.” Conservative parliamentarian Bernhard Friedmann has even suggested that reunification should be put on the agenda of East-West arms-control talks—an idea that Kohl has dismissed as “utter nonsense.”

The subject of reunification stirs powerful emotions in Germany. But such neutrality talk from the usually pro-American rightists clearly concerns their western partners. As a result, while Reagan advocated efforts to bring East and West Berlin closer together—and even proposed that a future Olympics be held on both sides of the city—he took pains in his Berlin speech to offer security assurances. While pursuing arms reductions, the President said, “we will retain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression at any level.” He also took a combative anti-Soviet line. As three East German security men looked on from atop the Brandenburg Gate, located just inside the eastern sector, Reagan declared, “The totalitarian world produces back-

wardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship.” Reagan’s strong words were at best a partial antidote to his lacklustre performance in Venice. The President arrived at the summit with a long wish list of goals and a prediction by White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker that the summit would produce “important developments.” For U.S. officials, the key political topic was the Persian Gulf. Concerned over a possible Iranian deployment of 20 Chinesemade Silkworm missiles on the eastern shore of the Strait of Hormuz, Baker warned on the eve of the summit that Washington would view such a deploy-

ment as a “hostile act” that might invite retaliation. And U.S. officials said that they would ask the summit participants to call for a mandatory ban on arms sales to Iran and Iraq if they refused to negotiate an end to their seven-year-old war—a ban that would affect only Iran because Iraq has said for years that it wants to talk. But Reagan did not even raise the subject over dinner with the six heads of state at the Palazzo Corner. And the summit’s final communiqué included only a bland reaffirmation of “the principle of freedom of navigation in the Gulf.” Similarly, although Reagan did win summit backing for a pledge to combat international terrorism, the communiqué noticeably excluded a line from the antiterrorism declaration made at last year’s Tokyo summit. That statement called for a “refusal to export arms to states which sponsor or support terrorism”—a refer-

ence that one U.S. official admitted would now be “an embarrassing reminder” of American arms sales to Iran. Embarrassment of another sort followed the leaders’ antiterrorism declaration in Venice. In Rome on the morning of June 9, two bombs exploded on the grounds of the U.S. and British embassies and a third shattered windows and set fire to parked cars (no one was hurt). An anonymous caller to a news agency in Beirut claimed responsibility on behalf of a previously unknown group called the Palestinian Islamic Holy War Organization. Italian police said that they were seeking a man of Asian origin carrying a Canadian passport,

but an External Affairs spokesman said that the passport had been reported stolen one year ago.

But as Reagan boarded Air Force One last Friday evening for the flight home to Washington, he could look back on a European tour whose results were decidedly mixed. The President had faltered in the palaces of Venice. But most observers agreed that he had made a solid recovery in West Berlin, employing the sort of confrontational political theatre in which he has long flourished. He could also look forward to the possibility of a historic arms-control accord. For the moment, however, Reagan returned to a persistent political problem: the Iran-contra hearings, scheduled to resume this week—and his own diminishing power.

BOB LEVIN with PETER LEWIS in West Berlin, MADELAINE DROHAN in Venice and KENEVA KUNZ in Reykjavik