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Caution on the Path

April 09, 1985

There is now agreement in principle on a meeting between President Reagan and the new Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The commitment of the two leaders to that meeting is a positive development in the slow process of repairing the damage done in recent years to Soviet-American relations.

The Moscow response was paired with a proposal for a missile freeze, a signal that the world will not stop until the summit occurs. Both sides will continue to press for psychological advantages. Washington should not have expected more.

The path toward the summit must now be walked with prudence and caution. The outcome of that summit will depend on its preparation, not on the personalities of the two superpower leaders. Much of that preparation already is being made in the Geneva arms-control negotiations.

Gorbachev's proposal for a freeze on missile deployment in Europe may already have been the business of Geneva. Its discussion in public rather than in the appointed private forum invited suspicion that the purpose was propaganda and the true target the peace-hungry people of Europe who somehow might be tempted away from their alliance with the United States. If that was the intention, the Kremlin has been disappointed.

The commitment of the White House to study the proposal was appropriate. As the President's spokesman said, "stability cannot be achieved by maintaining a lopsided balance," and that seems to be just what the freeze would do. But the proposal for a unilateral suspension of missile deployment by the Soviet Union, no matter what the motive, also provides an opportunity. A reduction of missiles might prove easier under the circumstances--something at least worth exploring.

Leonid I. Brezhnev himself talked of a missile freeze three years ago. One could have wished that the new Soviet leader, the fourth in four years, might somehow have struck a more innovative chord to demonstrate that a new generation is in command. But that, too, might have proved to be an illusion. And illusions only confuse the hard, hard work of bridging the chasm of suspicion and disparate goals that separates these two nations.

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