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U.S. Skeptical on Soviet Trade Talks Bid : State-Controlled System at Odds With GATT Rules, Officials Say

August 22, 1986|ELEANOR CLIFT | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — The White House reacted with skepticism Thursday to a Soviet request to participate in a new round of world trade talks, calling the Kremlin's economic system "at a fundamental, practical and philosophical variance" with the principles embraced by the 91-member General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

"It is difficult to see how a state-supported and -controlled economic system could comply with GATT rules," White House spokesman Larry Speakes said.

For the Soviets to join GATT, they would have to establish a trading system complete with tariff schedules, Speakes said.

Because the Soviets have not indicated any willingness to adapt to GATT rules, the Administration does not regard their request to participate as legitimate, some officials here said.

At the same time, Speakes suggested that the Soviets "get down to business" and respond to President Reagan's July 25 letter to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev setting forth the Administration's latest arms control proposals.

In addition, Speakes said, "if the Soviets are serious" about a nuclear test ban, they would take President Reagan up on his offer to have Soviet scientists visit the U.S. nuclear test site at Nevada.

"What we're basically saying is put up or shut up," said a White House official, who asked not to be identified.

While Administration officials continue to say that they are optimistic about prospects for a superpower summit this year, they have found the Soviets elusive when it comes to seriously negotiating a date or an agenda.

Moreover, White House officials believe that recent Soviet offers on the trade talks and for a moratorium on nuclear testing are smoke-screens to distract from the real issues.

A report in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday said that Reagan had proposed in his letter to Gorbachev that all ballistic missiles be eliminated and that the superpowers share research aimed at developing a missile defense system popularly known as "Star Wars."

'A Stupid Policy'

Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan refused Thursday to discuss what Reagan had offered in his private communication. But Regan called the current system of mutual deterrence "a stupid policy" and pointed out that Reagan has said many times that he favors the eventual elimination of offensive missiles.

Regan said he hopes the delay in Gorbachev's response indicates that the Soviets are preparing a "thoughtful" counterproposal. The President took roughly a month to reply to a similar letter from Gorbachev, he noted.

In a speech to a civic club here, Regan vowed that the "Star Wars" research program "is not a bargaining chip."

He said that current arms control negotiations "offer more encouragement today than at any time during the past decade." But in a question and answer session after his speech, Regan took every opportunity to assail the Soviets. He said that, if the Soviets had their way, the next meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev would be "a single-issue summit" with regional issues and human-rights "swept under the rug."

"If they're such peace lovers . . . what are they doing in Afghanistan?" he asked.

The harsh language from the White House appeared to stem from a sense that the Soviets are gaining an edge in their campaign to woo world opinion before any summit. Speakes went to great pains to stress that U.S. officials are meeting with Soviet officials in advance of the proposed summit in "perhaps an unprecedented number of meetings in a given time."

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