Last tango in Geneva

BOB LEVIN September 7 1987

Last tango in Geneva

BOB LEVIN September 7 1987

Last tango in Geneva

They hold backyard barbecues, go hiking together in the Jura mountains and even take moon-

light boat rides—complete with dinner and dancing—on Lake Geneva. Over the 28 months that U.S. and Soviet arms control negotiators have been talking in Geneva, they have progressed beyond the official sessions and receptions to more informal contacts. In recent months those contacts have increased as the pace of negotiations has quickened—and the prospect of achieving a historic accord on mediumand shorter-range missiles has grown ever more real. “There is definitely a sense of excitement,” said U.S. negotiator Ronald Bartek. Last week there was even more cause for excitement: two moves, one by the United States and the other by West Germany, appeared to speed the way to an arms control accord, perhaps before year’s end.

Significant differences remain, but major obstacles have been dropping like dominoes. In late July, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons with ranges of 300 to 3,000 miles not only from Europe but also from Asia—the so-called global double-zero option. Last week in Geneva, U.S. negotiators eased their demands for on-site verification of compliance with the proposed treaty. Then in Bonn, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced that if the superpowers reached an arms control agreement this year, West Germany would scrap, rather than modernize, its 72 outdated Pershing 1A missiles, which had become a major problem in the talks. And at a midweek speech in Los Angeles, President Ronald Reagan predicted, “We can wrap up an agreement on intermediate-range missiles promptly.”

The Soviets have traditionally resisted Washington’s demands for strict on-site verification. Now, U.S. officials have dropped their insistence that inspectors be based continuously outside missile plants, and it has offered to limit the number of short-notice—or so-called “challenge”—inspections. Officials maintained that the new proposal was a logical response to Gorbachev’s acceptance of the global doublezero option.

Kohl’s announcement was even more surprising. Last June, when he endorsed the outlines of the U.S.-Soviet deal, he excluded the Pershing 1A missiles. That echoed the U.S. position that the Pershings were third-party sys-

terns, like British and French missiles, and should not be part of a bilateral pact. The Soviets, however, insisted that the Pershings be included because they are fitted with American warheads and are under U.S. control. Last week Kohl seemed to draw a fine line between those two positions, saying that he would eliminate the Pershings—but only after the bilateral deal was concluded and carried out. Said Kohl: “The Federal Republic must do all it can to contribute to a breakthrough in the negotiations.”

Kohl clearly had domestic considerations as well. Over the past year his Christian Democatic Union party has suffered setbacks at the polls. The chief beneficiary has been the CDU’s liberal coalition partner, the Free Democrats, who have traditionally advocated dismantling the Pershings. As a result, Kohl’s action last week was aimed at stopping his party’s slide in two key state elections on Sept. 13. It should also defuse a contentious issue when East German leader Erich Honecker makes an unprecedented visit to Bonn next week.

The superpower leaders seemed uncertain of how to react to Kohl’s announcement. One U.S. official said that he was “puzzled” by the move, and others claimed that it undercut Washington’s negotiating position on excluding the Pershings. Later, however, Reagan appeared to approve, concluding that Kohl’s proposal had “removed even this artificial obstacle from consideration.” In Moscow, the official news agency TASS at first maintained that Kohl’s statement was hedged with too many conditions. But Radio Moscow later concluded that, although Kohl’s announcement needed further study, “this is a step forward.”

The two sides could take additional steps when Secretary of State George Shultz meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in Washington in mid-September. But for all the momentum toward an arms agreement, there is still animosity between the two governments. In his Los Angeles speech, Reagan criticized the Soviets on issues from Afghanistan to the Berlin Wall, and he called on the Kremlin “to show some glasnost in your military affairs.” Soviet foreign ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov declared that the speech was composed of “the old baggage of anti-Soviet rhetoric.” With the end of Reagan’s term just 16 months away, time is short for the administration—and the Soviet government—to cast aside the old baggage and unveil a new monument in arms control.