WASHINGTON — Citing "our moral imperative" to end the threat of nuclear war, President Reagan on Friday dispatched U.S. negotiators to the new round of arms talks in Geneva with authority to "explore every promising avenue for progress" toward radical reductions in nuclear arsenals.
"Patience, strength and unity--Western unity"--will be necessary before "real and verifiable reductions in American and Soviet offensive nuclear arms" can be achieved, Reagan told the chief U.S. negotiators to the three-part talks on long-range and intermediate-range offensive nuclear weapons and on space-based defensive arms.
The principal negotiators will be former Texas Sen. John Tower for long-range weapons, Maynard W. Glitman for intermediate-range weapons and Max M. Kampelman for space and defensive weapons. Kampelman will also lead the U.S. delegation, which is due to arrive in Geneva over the weekend.
No Mention of Space Arms
Reagan did not mention space arms in his remarks, and sources later said the omission reflected the U.S. intention only to discuss, but not to limit, those weapons. Specifically, these sources said, the U.S. team to the space arms talks will not propose a ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.
The Soviets, however, are primarily interested in curtailing U.S. research on "Star Wars"--exotic beams and other high-technology weapons that could be used to destroy missiles. Moscow seems certain to emphasize space arms when the talks open Tuesday.
The U.S. negotiating strategy, sources said, is built on the assumption that progress on space defense issues and on long-range offensive arms will be closely related.
They suggested that the Americans intend to make some small modifications in their previous stance on long-range offensive weapons--"showing a little ankle," as one put it.
Robert C. McFarlane, the President's national security adviser, told a press conference that the United States is "ready to explore trade-offs" between the long-range weapons of the two sides. But the same principles he outlined Friday formed the basis for the U.S. position in 1983, when the Soviets quit an earlier round of talks.
The Soviets also walked out of talks on intermediate-weapons in 1983, and McFarlane did not indicate that the U.S. position had changed significantly since then.
But other sources said the United States will try harder to show progress in this set of talks, if for no other reason than that U.S. allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will be eager for progress toward limiting the basing of nuclear missiles on their soil.
New U.S. deployments of these missiles are facing opposition in Belgium and the Netherlands, and renewed anti-nuclear protests may break out in West Germany, Italy and Britain this spring.
"The weakest link in the negotiations," one U.S. official said, "is going to be our allies--not Congress, which now looks like it will fund more MX missiles, or the U.S. public."
Moscow is expected to play on European nuclear fears and to repeat its hard line--refusing to accept any U.S. missiles on the Continent--in hopes of splitting the United States from its allies, this official added. Of the projected 572 U.S. Pershing 2 and cruise missiles to be deployed in Europe by 1987, about 109 are already in place.
In talks on long-range and intermediate-range offensive weapons, McFarlane stressed U.S. flexibility to explore different approaches that could lead to agreement. But on defense and space arms, his words held out less promise for the near term.
Reagan gave the negotiators a 12-page statement providing guidance for the space talks, and McFarlane said it "stressed that negotiation should begin this session" on several U.S. aims: "to establish the U.S. view on the relationship between offensive and defensive arms; to present U.S. concerns about erosion of the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty; to provide the Soviets with a comprehensive rationale for the Strategic Defense Initiative (the Administration's official name for "Star Wars"), and to take up some dozen different issues with the Soviets including our view of the current strategic situation and balance."
McFarlane said Reagan stressed to the departing U.S. negotiators three main concerns: that the Soviet-American strategic balance was "out of kilter"; that new weapons will increase the instabilities, and that alleged Soviet cheating on past treaties must be dealt with "forthrightly."
McFarlane said he had "never seen instructions that provided greater latitude for serious give and take" than the President's orders to the long-range arms negotiators.
Of the six possible negotiating stances presented to the President for the talks on long-range offensive weapons, McFarlane said Reagan "in a sense chose all six." Although meant as a measure of the President's flexibility, McFarlane's disclosure equally suggested that the President refused to decide now among the six different negotiating paths.