Since last Thanksgiving Day, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan came within a whisker of reaching a historic arms accord in Iceland, the disarmament efforts of the two superpowers have run an unsteady course. While the Soviets have since made two major concessions, the negotiations continued to stall. But last week Gorbachev again raised hopes for a deal by making a surprise announcement. In written replies to questions from the Indonesian newspaper Merdeka, the Soviet leader offered for the first time to withdraw medium-range nuclear missiles from Asia as well as Europe.
The move was carefully timed. In recent weeks Max Kampelman—the chief U.S. arms negotiator—has complained that progress at negotiations in Geneva would be impossible without such a step by the Soviets. Still, the Reagan administration greeted the news with cautious praise. Said National Security Adviser Frank Carlucci: “If the details are satisfactory, this could be a positive move.”
Earlier, U.S. officials had opposed a Soviet insistence on retaining 100 medium-range missiles in Asia while completely eliminating them in Europe. The U.S. position had stemmed not only from objections by Japan and other Asian allies, but from concerns about verification. Determining that all of the Soviet medium-range weapons had been destroyed, it was argued, would be easier than ensuring that the stockpile remain limited to 100 units.
Since the Iceland meeting, Gorbachev has backed off his demand that Washington end its Star Wars space weapons program. And when U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz visited Moscow in April, Gorbachev said that he was also prepared to destroy Soviet stocks of short-range missiles based in Europe.
A major obstacle now facing the talks is the Soviet demand that 72 U.S. nuclear warheads mounted on West German-owned Pershing 1-A missiles be scrapped as part of any deal. U.S. negotiators contend that the talks are bilateral and cannot deal with Germany’s own weapons. With the government in Bonn adament that its missiles remain untouched, the arms talks may, as before, quickly arrive at a stalemate.
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