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Surprise Talk : Reagan Meets Soviet Envoy Over Daniloff

September 21, 1986|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Reagan summoned Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze Friday to "convey the strength of his feelings" about the confinement of an American reporter to Moscow on spy charges.

The Soviet official delivered a message to Reagan from General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Its contents were not divulged in a two-sentence statement issued by the White House after the 45-minute meeting.

But Radio Moscow, in an English-language report, said Gorbachev dealt with arms control issues and hopes for a summit meeting with Reagan.

"The United States is implementing all its military programs and doesn't appear to want agreement," the broadcast said.

The highest-level superpower talks in 10 months were held under the shadow of the case of the correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, who is under Soviet indictment on espionage charges.

'Strength of His Feelings'

It apparently distracted from arrangements Shevardnadze was supposed to make with Secretary of State George P. Shultz on a summit meeting. A senior U.S. official had said Thursday: "We do not expect dates to be set."

The White House statement said Reagan had called in Shevardnadze "to convey the strength of his feelings about the continued refusal of the Soviet authorities to allow Nicholas Daniloff to return home."

"Foreign Minister Shevardnadze delivered to the President a letter from General Secretary Gorbachev," it said. "The meeting lasted about 45 minutes."

Shultz, White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, and Vice Adm. John Poindexter, the President's assistant for national security, also attended the session.

"All I can say is that the President was serious, he was frank," Regan told reporters afterward. "He was quite candid in telling the foreign minister that we viewed the Daniloff matter with a great deal of seriousness here."

Asked if there was progress, Regan replied: "Hopefully, they're now assured that we all view it with seriousness and that this is not something that we have trumped up."

Responding to the White House summons, Shevardnadze quietly left the State Department, where he had talked for nearly four hours with Shultz, and met with the President unannounced.

Later, Larry Speakes, the White House spokesman, said Shultz had proposed that Reagan see the Soviet foreign minister and that "the President wished to express his views directly" about Daniloff.

Daniloff was arrested Aug. 30, held and questioned in Lefortovo prison for two weeks and then released a week ago Friday to the custody of U.S. Ambassador Arthur A. Hartman. Daniloff is prohibited from leaving the country, despite a personal appeal from Reagan to Gorbachev.

It was not clear if the letter delivered by Shevardnadze made any reference to the Daniloff case. Reagan has protested Daniloff's innocence, as has the reporter.

'Caught Red-Handed'

Gorbachev, in a speech Thursday, described Daniloff as "a spy caught red-handed."

Shevardnadze drove up to the State Department's diplomatic entrance for his morning meeting with Shultz in a black limousine. U.S. and Soviet flags fluttered in an Indian summer breeze from the front fenders.

But he left for the White House--without a police escort--from a side garage. There were no flags mounted on his car.

Shultz did not pose for photographs with Shevardnadze at the opening. Bernard Kalb, the State Department spokesman, said the reason was that the full delegations did not meet in the morning as planned.

"As it turned out," Kalb said, having not met for 10 months, Shultz and Shevardnadze conversed "one on one." Other members of the U.S. delegation, including Assistant Secretary of State Rozanne L. Ridgeway and Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard N. Perle, waited in a reception room one floor above, sipping coffee and orange juice.

Later Meeting

Another round between Shultz and Shevardnadze was held in late afternoon at the State Department.

"I think we should meet more often," the Soviet foreign minister remarked in Russian while photographers recorded the start of the afternoon round of talks.

The White House did not permit photographs of the Reagan-Shevardnadze meeting, and said it would not distribute any taken by a White House photographer. Shevardnadze was brought into the White House through a gate not usually used as an entrance.

Speakes cautioned reporters against assuming that the Reagan-Shevardnadze meeting heralded progress in the Soviet foreign minister's earlier session with Shultz. "If I was you, I'd make no interpretation because you don't know," Speakes said. "There should be none at this time."

At the State Department, meanwhile, spokesman Kalb said, "I have no way of offering you any characterization or interpretation of the talks."

Top of Agenda

Although the Daniloff matter was at the top of the U.S. agenda, Shevardnadze reportedly intended to press the United States on the U.S.-ordered expulsion of 25 Soviet diplomats at the United Nations. Moscow has labeled that move as illegal.

Before Daniloff's arrest, the purpose of the meeting with Shultz had been to prepare an agenda for the summit that Reagan and Gorbachev agreed last November to hold here this year. But the senior official, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said Thursday, 'I honestly do not expect dates to come out of these sessions."

Calling the liberation of the 51-year-old journalist "essential," the official said, "They have to find a way to let Nick Daniloff come home."

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