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Reagan Talk Stirs British Political Row : Jab at Labor Defense Policy Brings Charge of Election Meddling

May 28, 1987|Associated Press

LONDON — Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock today accused the Conservative government of trying to mobilize President Reagan's support for its reelection as a furor erupted over Reagan's sharp criticism of Labor's non-nuclear policy.

"The general judgment will be that either the government has sought to mobilize the views of the President in support of them (Conservatives) . . . or that the President felt it necessary in a moment of extreme frankness to offer that view," Kinnock said.

"As to the wisdom of offering that view, the British people will be the best judge of that," Kinnock added at a packed news conference midway through the campaign for the June 11 general election.

Reagan said at a news conference on Wednesday that Labor's plans to scrap British nuclear weapons and return U.S. cruise missiles were "grievous errors."

His remarks pushed the defense issue to the center of the election campaign--where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wants it--and were reported today in banner headlines by British newspapers.

Denies Seeking Help

Thatcher, speaking at her Conservative Party headquarters, denied she had sought the help of Reagan--her greatest foreign ally--or that he was interfering in the campaign.

"We are free to say what we wish. We must extend the same freedom to other people," she said.

Kinnock pledged that dismantling of Britain's Polaris nuclear weapons would start "within a couple of weeks' time" after a Labor victory.

"Reagan Pokes His Nose In," said London's Today newspaper, a supporter of the centrist Socialist Democratic-Liberal Party alliance. The liberal Guardian said, "Reagan Warns Against Labour Defense 'Errors.' "

The conservative Daily Telegraph headlined "Reagan Attack On Labor Defense Plans," while The Times of London, another Thatcher supporter, called it "Reagan's View of Britain."

Kinnock, advancing steadily in opinion polls but still eight points behind Thatcher, appeared calm during a barrage of questions about defense, the issue on which polls show Labor is most vulnerable.

Campaign Issues Cited

The party is focusing the campaign on health, education, welfare and unemployment.

Kinnock noted that Reagan had counterbalanced his remark by saying he "did not want to be involved" in the campaign and that the United States had been a friend of both Conservative and Labor governments in the past.

The Labor program calls for the immediate cancellation of Thatcher's order to replace Polaris with the much more potent U.S. Trident missiles. Cruise missiles, Kinnock says, would be kept temporarily if superpower negotiations on nuclear missile cutbacks in Europe were going well, but would be removed within five years.

Kinnock, challenged repeatedly on whether he would seek protection from the U.S. nuclear umbrella which is fundamental to NATO strategy, said he would not seek the use of "terminal" weapons.

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