WASHINGTON — President Reagan today sent his negotiators into arms talks with the Soviet Union with instructions to cut back offensive weapons "so all God's children can grow up without the fear of nuclear war."
Reagan steered clear of any reference to his controversial "Star Wars" initiative. The Soviets have targeted the $26-billion research program on space-based missile defense systems for elimination at the talks opening Tuesday in Geneva.
"We know our differences with the Soviet Union are great," Reagan in a statement he read before cameras in the White House Roosevelt room.
Negotiators Max Kampelman, John Tower and Maynard Glitman stood at his side, while other members of the U.S. delegation, their coats folded over their arms, completed the picture.
When the talks broke down 15 months ago, the United States and the Soviet Union were far apart on how to reduce offensive weapons. They are resuming their discussions with "Star Wars" added to the agenda under a complicated system that could block all progress if the two sides disagree on space weapons.
Reagan said he had asked the three U.S. negotiators "to explore every promising avenue for progress." His instructions for the first round, which may run six to eight weeks, were drafted by Robert C. McFarlane, the White House national security adviser, and approved by Reagan just before the send-off.
The instructions can be altered after the Soviets set out their opening positions sometime after the negotiations are subdivided into three parts next Thursday.
"Like Americans everywhere," Reagan said, "I want these negotiations to succeed and will do everything I can to ensure that this happens. I pray that the Soviet leadership is prepared to make the same commitment."
Reagan had the three negotiators in for breakfast. They were joined by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, McFarlane and congressional observers.
Afterward, Reagan took Kampelman, Tower and Glitman to the Oval Office for what he called "instructions for the first round of talks"--hinting that U.S. strategy may shift in the weeks ahead.
"We should have no illusions that this will be easy since any venture of this magnitude will take time," Reagan said. "And since the most vital security interests of both sides are at stake, this will clearly be long and difficult."