DENVER — President Reagan, seeking to build public support for the "Star Wars" missile defense program less than two weeks before his summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, said Tuesday that the program will "change history" by offering the world "security through protection rather than retaliation."
Reagan, reiterating his pledge not to make the controversial program a "bargaining chip" in his negotiations with Gorbachev, also took a swipe at congressional critics who have charged that the Strategic Defense Initiative, as it is known officially, is too costly.
"I'd say that what we spend to protect ourselves from nuclear missiles is much lighter than the cost, human and otherwise, if even one nuclear missile is fired, even if by mistake, and we have to suffer the consequences because there is no way to stop it," he said.
Push for SDI Testing
In Washington, meanwhile, another Administration voice spoke out strongly for the President's space-based missile defense program. Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci, in his first press conference in his new post, said that he will press Congress to allow SDI testing, even though it would violate a strict interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
The President made his remarks here to more than 3,000 employees of Martin Marietta Corp., which recently won a $10.8-million government contract to study the feasibility of conducting experiments with powerful chemical lasers in space, a key SDI component.
In an upbeat reference to his upcoming meetings with Gorbachev, Reagan praised the Geneva negotiations between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze that produced agreement on a treaty to remove intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe.
But he repeated earlier statements that the Soviets are moving forward with their own version of "Star Wars" and that the United States must not fall behind in the race to develop an effective, space-based missile shield.
Reagan also stressed that the United States will not sign any treaty with the Soviets limiting nuclear weapons without verification provisions ensuring that both sides will honor such a pact. Agreements with the Soviets must not be based on "atmospherics," he said, but "reciprocity, verification and realism."
The main thrust of Reagan's comments, however, continued a public relations buildup on behalf of the missile defense program that the Administration has launched in the past week. Reagan repeatedly described the program as a defensive "insurance policy" that would protect the United States and its allies not only against possible Soviet aggression but also against a nuclear attack from an "outlaw nation" that somehow had acquired ballistic missiles.
The President vowed that he will continue with plans to move toward deployment of the complex program, even though his Administration was compelled last week to restrict the scope of SDI experiments in the next fiscal year under pressure from congressional critics.
Opponents had argued that the Administration should confine its tests of "Star Wars" technology to a restrictive interpretation of the provisions of the ABM treaty, and had threatened to hold up passage of next year's military spending authorization bill.
The White House, not wanting to be embroiled in a political fight over the issue with Congress when Gorbachev arrives in Washington on Dec. 7, agreed to give up for the year its more expansive interpretation of the treaty that would permit the tests it wants to perform.
The Administration suffered another SDI setback earlier this year when Congress cut the President's $5.2-billion request for research to $3.9 billion. Proponents have said that those cuts will delay key experiments by as much as two years and make the program far more costly in the future.
Brushing aside these conflicts, Reagan insisted that SDI will move forward because it is "totally within the limits of the ABM treaty." He said he will resist Soviet demands that work on the program be halted in return for any future treaty restricting strategic, long-range missiles.
The President said that the planned treaty on intermediate-range missiles scheduled to be signed at his meetings with Gorbachev in Washington "could well be just a beginning" for future agreements. "But let there be no doubt--giving up the Strategic Defense Initiative and the protection it will provide is too high a price for any agreement."
Speaking at his press conference in Washington, Carlucci declared: "My position has been clear, and it's been public for some time and that is that we ought to deploy SDI as soon as we can."
Carlucci said that the Pentagon hopes to demonstrate to Congress next year that the "Star Wars" program is "conceptually sound" and "well managed" and that testing can be justified on national security grounds.