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Kremlin's Tone Subdued in Reports on Iran Scandal

March 01, 1987|WILLIAM J. EATON and ROBERT SCHEER | Times Staff Writers

MOSCOW — The Kremlin's America-watchers are showing more regret than delight over President Reagan's troubles in the Iran- contra scandal.

Despite the temptation to score propaganda points on the Reagan Administration's disarray, the tone of official commentaries has been factual and relatively subdued.

Some Soviet analysts regard the debacle as more serious than the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974, but very few officials here expect Reagan to be forced from office before he is scheduled to leave in January, 1989.

Uncertainty About Impact

They believe Reagan has been weakened and, in their eyes, is probably less able to negotiate an arms control agreement, the top foreign policy priority for Moscow. In addition, there is great uncertainty about the impact of the drawn-out crisis on Soviet-American relations for the rest of the President's term.

Some Soviet analysts of U.S. affairs contend that an embattled President may be more eager to achieve a cutback in nuclear weapons to restore his tarnished image. But the Soviet news media also have expressed concern that Reagan may embark on a new foreign adventure to distract public attention from the crisis that has shaken his presidency.

There is even private speculation that Reagan, 76 and coping with a series of health problems, may step aside before his term is over.

The official view, however, was expressed by Gennady I. Gerasimov, chief Foreign Ministry spokesman, in assessing the scandal. "We didn't choose this Administration but we have to live with it," he said. "We think the Administration will stay until the next elections."

Believe Reagan Was Hurt

Nevertheless, those who keep watch on the White House from the Institute for Study of the U.S.A. and Canada believe Reagan has been hurt.

"Certainly the Administration is weaker," said Vitaly Zhurkin, deputy director of the institute. "It's a very, very lame duck, although the President's popularity is still high."

The crisis, Zhurkin said, was "an accidental, but inevitable result of Reagan's global adventures." But there was no sign of gloating in his manner as he lamented the possible impact on Soviet-American negotiations at the Geneva arms control talks.

"I would prefer that no domestic affair should influence arms (control) policy, but I am a realist and I know that it does," he said.

'Devastating Report'

Ramodir Bogdanov, another deputy director of the institute, which advises the Kremlin on what is happening in Washington, read the full text of the Tower Commission report as soon as it was transmitted here.

"I was shocked--it's a devastating report," Bogdanov said.

First Reaction

In its first reaction to the Tower report, the official Tass news agency said the report was shielding the President and his aides by failing to pinpoint any violations of law.

"That's absurd," Bogdanov said, noting that the report directly challenged Reagan's competence in the handling of foreign affairs.

The basic theme of the Moscow analysis was that an American President with political problems at home would be less likely to conclude an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. Tass, for example, referred to "bewilderment and confusion" in the Reagan White House and an expected shake-up when former Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. takes over as chief of staff from Donald T. Regan.

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