WASHINGTON — Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger, speaking out jointly for the first time since they left office, have issued an extraordinary warning to President Reagan that it would be "a profound mistake" to sign a nuclear arms reduction agreement unless Moscow accepts major changes in the formula now being negotiated.
The former President and his chief foreign policy adviser declared that there is "little doubt" a U.S.-Soviet summit will occur this year and predicted that an arms control agreement of some kind will be signed.
'Wrong Kind of Deal'
But they cautioned that "the wrong kind of deal" could leave Western Europe vulnerable to Soviet attack with conventional forces or to blackmail with Soviet-based nuclear weapons. That, they said, would provoke the worst crisis in the 40-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In a 1,700-word column written for today's Times Opinion section, Nixon and Kissinger urged that the United States insist on two major changes in the arms control agreement now being worked out between U.S. and Soviet diplomats:
- First, that withdrawing intermediate-range nuclear weapons from Europe be linked to eliminating the Soviets' overwhelming advantage in conventional forces.
- Second, that the proposed pact be widened to provide for eliminating all of these missiles, including those in Asia.
The agreement now being negotiated would permit the Soviets to retain 100 medium-range nuclear warheads with ranges of 1,000 to 3,000 miles, to be deployed in Asia. They would be balanced by 100 American medium-range warheads in this country instead of Europe, where such U.S. weapons are now positioned.
Coming from two such prominent fellow Republicans with unique credentials in foreign affairs, this open criticism of the Reagan Administration's arms control goals and the call for U.S. insistence on what would be major new concessions by the Soviet Union, is likely to increase the pressure on Reagan and have a substantial impact on the coming debate over a new agreement.
A White House spokesman said Saturday that the Administration would take Nixon's and Kissinger's comments into consideration. "We welcome comments from all sides," spokesman Dan Howard said.
'Our Goal as Well'
He said the Administration agrees with Nixon and Kissinger that the proposed pact should eliminate all intermediate-range missiles. "That is our goal as well," Howard said. "We would vastly prefer zero on (such missiles), because that would make a treaty easier to verify.
"Our position is that we are still in consultation with our allies," he said. "Beyond that, we are not going to say anything further about the . . . treaty, except that we expect hard bargaining."
Nixon and Kissinger, although controversial figures even in their own party, are nonetheless two of the nation's most experienced and knowledgeable figures in foreign policy who ushered in the era of "detente" in the mid-1970s. Nixon met with Soviet leaders three times during his presidency. And Kissinger, who also served as secretary of state under President Gerald R. Ford, participated in five such summit meetings. Nixon, in fact, signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty during his presidency.
A Historic Opportunity
Implying that they would favor signing an agreement if their conditions were met, Nixon and Kissinger said that Reagan has a historic opportunity to promote world peace and to take a major step forward in American-Soviet relations if he signs "the right agreement."
"Every President has an understandable desire to assure his place in history as a peacemaker," Nixon and Kissinger said. "But he must always remember that, however he may be hailed in today's headlines, the judgment of tomorrow's history would severely condemn a false peace.
"Because we are deeply concerned about this danger, we who have attended several summits and engaged in many negotiations with Soviet leaders are speaking out jointly for the first time since both of us left office."
Skepticism about elements of the Reagan Administration's arms control effort already had been expressed by such figures as Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.).
NATO Chief's Doubts
Additionally, Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, NATO's commander-in-chief, has expressed serious doubts about a companion proposal by Moscow to wipe out all so-called short-range nuclear missiles--those with ranges of 300 to 1,000 miles.
The Soviet Union now has a monopoly on short-range nuclear arms. During Secretary of State George P. Shultz's recent Moscow visit, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev suggested eliminating short-range weapons entirely.