Just days before President Reagan is to host a $1.5-million campaign fund-raising dinner for him, Republican Senate nominee Ed Zschau on Wednesday described Reagan's decision to sell subsidized wheat to the Soviet Union as bad policy, bad business and perhaps illegal.
In a wide-ranging speech to the prestigious Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Zschau delivered a long and firmly anti-communist view of global affairs that paralleled the President's policies in most regards.
Zschau also salted his remarks with criticism of his opponent, Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston. Among other things, Zschau said Cranston was no more than "lackadaisical" in helping the nation counter state-sponsored terrorism.
Unexpectedly, at a time when his campaign is being closely watched by supporters to see if he can gain momentum, the Los Altos congressman was drawn into a long dissertation on Reagan Administration grain sales to the Soviet Union. It is an issue that splits the country regionally and has Republicans deeply divided, even within Reagan's own Cabinet. Moreover, it is an issue in which he and Cranston agree.
Reagan's decision to sell up to 4 million tons of U.S. wheat to the Soviet Union at subsidized bargain prices arose during a period of questioning from the audience of 400 businessmen, dignitaries and diplomats.
Zschau said he could take a "rather dispassionate" view of the matter because so little grain is produced in California. There is scant political pressure here to step up grain exports and help a faltering farm economy like there is in Midwestern wheat belt states.
"I view the subsidized grain sale to the Soviet Union as not good business and not good foreign policy," the Los Altos congressman said.
The business reasons, Zschau said, are that the Russians have not purchased market-value grain in the quantities they previously pledged they would. "So what do we do? We tell them we'll sell it at a lower price. Now what kind of a negotiating stance is that?"
Zschau said his foreign policy objections stem from a U.S. law that forbids favored-trading status to the Soviet Union until it opens immigration for Jews.
"The Soviets do not allow free immigration. The number of immigrants these days is down to a trickle, it's woefully small," said Zschau. He said the President's decision "seems to me to be in conflict with--if not the letter of the law--at least the spirit of the law."
Zschau's speech came just four days before Reagan is to host the most important single campaign event yet for the congressman, who admits that many Californians still don't know him. The lavish dinner in Los Angeles on Sunday night is intended to bring Zschau money and media attention. And just as important, Reagan's visible endorsement is designed to reassure conservative Republicans .
The speech was his first big plunge into foreign policy since his controversial trip to Israel earlier in the summer. That brief journey was undertaken for the benefit of American Jews unhappy with Zschau's stands on Mideast policy.
Wednesday's speech was a chance to present and broaden his campaign image on foreign policy. Zschau said the President needed backing in Congress as he attempted to negotiate arms control with the Soviets. Likewise, Zschau said the President needed support in combating Marxists in Central America. In both cases, Zschau insisted, the long and controversial policies of the Reagan Administration are about to bear fruit--with the emergence of a new democracy in El Salvador and fresh interest in arms control.