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Bush Praises Abilities of Soviet Workers

October 02, 1987|Associated Press

BRUSSELS — Vice President George Bush, nearing the end of a pre-campaign European trip, suggested today that Soviet tank mechanics would be welcome to work in American industry "because we could use that kind of ability."

Bush made his comment in an offhand way while marveling at a reported breakdown-free recent Soviet tank maneuver.

"Hey, when those mechanics who keep those tanks running run out of work in the Soviet Union, send them to Detroit because we could use that kind of ability," he said after meeting privately with NATO ministers.

Bush's aides, apparently fearing a gaffe that could damage his soon-to-be announced candidacy for the White House, swiftly offered an explanation of what the vice president meant when he spoke to reporters after meeting privately with NATO ministers.

Vice presidential chief of staff Craig Fuller said the comment reflected Bush's recent meeting with top Ford executives at which the auto men said they have placed great emphasis on quality. Fuller said Bush's comment meant that the auto companies are always looking for good mechanics.

But Peter Laarman, a United Auto Workers spokesman in Detroit, said it is "ludicrous to suggest the Soviet Union's mechanical prowess has advanced beyond the United States'. "

Laarman said there have been occasional problems with American tanks because of "over-design. . . . As far as workers are concerned, they want to build as much quality as they're given the opportunity to build."

"Detroit is known as an arsenal of democracy," he added.

Ironically, many of the American auto workers who might take offense at Bush's comments are of Polish descent. The vice president spent four days in Poland earlier in his trip, lending support to the outlawed Solidarity movement in a series of gestures that aides believed would help his political standing at home.

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