NEW YORK — Leonid Zolotarevsky used to report on the war in Afghanistan for Soviet TV. Peter Jennings once covered the Vietnam War for ABC. Tonight, they're co-hosting an unusual broadcast that will discuss ways to avoid war.
It's "Capital to Capital," an unprecedented, ABC 90-minute program airing live on the East Coast (tape-delayed at 11:30 p.m. PDT) and at 7:30 Wednesday morning in the Soviet Union, where it will be taped and shown again in prime time.
Preempting ABC's "Nightline," it's the first of three programs that Soviet TV and ABC will air in which key Soviet and American officials talk via satellite hookup linking the 4,858 miles between Washington and Moscow.
"Nightline" routinely does satellite interviews with notables in other countries, and the syndicated "Donahue" show has taped two-way exchanges between Soviet and American citizens for later broadcasts. But tonight's program marks the first time a broadcast has aired live simultaneously in the United States and the Soviet Union.
The program's topics are security and areas of conflict and possible cooperation between the superpowers.
Jennings, anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight," expressed hope in an interview that tonight's exchange won't get bogged down in technical mutterings about missiles and such related topics as MIRVs and throw weights.
"What I'd really love to have happen," he said, "is for each of these two panels to explain, 'What makes us feel threatened about the other?' "
To help that line of thought along, he said, he has prepared a program-opening piece--translated into Russian for Soviet viewers--that tries to explain "what we in this country get upset about."
It includes the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Jennings anticipates that Soviet broadcasters "will do something similar for our audience."
The Washington participants on the program will be Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), Nunn's counterpart in the House, and House Minority Whip Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
The four-member Moscow team includes Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, chief of the Soviet general staff, and Lev Tolkunov, chairman of the Soviet of the Unions, one of the two houses of the Supreme Soviet.
There also will be studio audiences consisting of other members of the U.S. Congress in Washington and members of the Soviet Party Congress in Moscow. They will be permitted to ask questions.
The next two programs, on Oct. 14 and Nov. 18, will concern human rights and regional conflicts, respectively. All are co-produced by ABC and Soviet TV and arranged by a nonprofit American broadcast organization called Internews.
Jennings is doing his side of the broadcast in Washington, with the Moscow side handled by Zolotarevsky, now director of the international division of Gosteleradio, the Soviet state broadcasting system.
Tonight is the second time Jennings has co-hosted a joint Soviet-American broadcast. The first, a Moscow-San Francisco exchange between Soviet and American journalists under the auspices of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, was done last April, when it was taped for broadcast by PBS.
The glasnost spirit may be willing, but sometimes the technology is weak, noted the urbane "World News Tonight" anchorman.
He cited as an example the run-through for tonight's program that he and his Moscow counterpart did last Tuesday. That, he said, "was an absolute disaster"--but better then than tonight.
Although there will be simultaneous translations of Russian and English in Washington and Moscow, "you invariably are a little damned in these situations by translations," particularly if one is slower than the other, Jennings said. It can be a major problem.
But one equally pesky potential problem involves panelists who may prove boltlivy , which is Russian for gabby (which in Washington is an honored custom).
"In the American culture, to talk on top of one another, to interrupt, is an absolutely normal part of conversation at the most polite levels," Jennings said.
"But to interrupt a Soviet official in the middle of his speech is not considered polite. So you say to them, 'You've got three minutes. If you go to 10 minutes, it's considered impolite.' "
There will be times, Jennings said, that he and his moderating colleague in Moscow "are going to have to interrupt" speakers of either side to urge them to hasten to the point.
It will require great diplomacy, the anchorman said.