WASHINGTON — President Reagan, in one of the biggest one-day lobbying efforts of his presidency, attempted Wednesday to persuade Congress and the public that the U.S.-Soviet arms negotiations, which open next week in Geneva, cannot succeed without continued production of the MX nuclear missile.
"The vote on the Peacekeeper is also a vote on Geneva," Reagan told 100 representatives of private interest groups, calling the 10-warhead missile by the name he prefers.
"Let no one misjudge what is at stake. Rejecting the Peacekeeper will knock the legs out from under the negotiating table, leaving the Soviets no conclusion but that America lacks unity and resolve. I can think of no greater disaster for the negotiating position of the United States."
Recalls Union Experience
In separate remarks to the private citizens and to a bipartisan group of congressional leaders, Reagan recalled his experience as a Screen Actors Guild negotiator to illustrate the importance of uniting firmly behind a negotiating team and then remaining patient.
"When we picked a team and sent them to the bargaining table, we stood behind them," the one-time actor said of his days in Hollywood. "Then, we were seeking higher wages and better working conditions. The team we're sending to Geneva will be seeking peace and security for our country and the Free World. It's the American team, and I need your help in backing them up."
The President appealed to the interest group representatives, whom he frequently calls on to support his embattled legislative efforts, "to get the message out (to the public) that now is not the time to cancel a major weapons system or undercut our allies or to reward Soviet belligerence."
Reagan declared that "nuclear war would be the greatest tragedy, I think, ever experienced by mankind. And we've avoided that tragedy because we've maintained a credible (nuclear) deterrent force." Then, in a gentle swipe at critics of his nuclear policy, he added: "We can't afford to play political games with the delicate balance of deterrence."
Vote on MX Set
Congressional voting on Reagan's request to release $1.5 billion to build 21 more MX missiles--the first 21 were authorized two years ago--is scheduled for the week after the Geneva talks begin. Reagan, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and the President's chief arms advisers met at the White House with a steady stream of congressmen and citizens Wednesday to deliver their message that the negotiations and the MX are integrally related, and that both should enjoy bipartisan national support.
A mark of Reagan's apparent success among at least some of those he lobbied was evident when House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) emerged from the White House proclaiming to reporters that "partisanship must stop at the water's edge."
The President invited 30 Democratic House members for breakfast and told them that "the Soviets do not make a distinction between Republicans and Democrats or legislative and executive branches. They simply look for and exploit any sign of divisiveness or indecision or lack of resolve."
During a later meeting with congressional leaders of both parties, former Republican Sen. John Tower of Texas, now the chief U.S. negotiator for intercontinental weapons, remarked that the MX "gives our negotiators leverage" in dealing with the Soviets. The Administration has been careful, however, not to publicly describe the MX as a bargaining chip.