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Reagan Vows Cut in Strategic Arms : Determined to Seek 50% Reduction in 2nd Missile Pact, President Says

November 29, 1987|JACK NELSON | Times Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — President Reagan, raising the specter of a world devastated by nuclear war, has expressed determination to sign not only the treaty eliminating ground-launched intermediate-range nuclear missiles but a second treaty being negotiated with the Soviet Union to cut the arsenals of strategic, or long-range, missiles by 50%.

"I want to get those done," declared Reagan, who views the treaties as the first steps toward achieving a goal of a nuclear-free world.

The President and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev are scheduled to sign the treaty on intermediate-range missiles during a Dec. 7-10 summit conference in Washington. Reagan wants to reach a final agreement on a strategic arms treaty covering long-range weapons in time for it to be signed at another summit meeting in Moscow next year.

Treaty Wrapped Up

A final agreement to eliminate all intermediate-range missiles was wrapped up by Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze during a session in Geneva last Tuesday. The United States and the Soviet Union have been negotiating a strategic arms treaty that Reagan hopes to sign next spring even though some arms control experts, including Kenneth L. Adelman, outgoing director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, have expressed serious doubt that the superpowers can reach agreement by then.

Reagan's comments--along with observations on various issues by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford--came during a television interview with British journalist David Frost. The hour-long program, produced jointly with U.S. News and World Report, is being aired tonight on 115 stations across the nation, including KCOP-TV (Channel 13) in Los Angeles. The program is the first part of a series entitled "The Next President" that will include interviews with presidential candidates.

In the Oval Office interview, the President warned that the "mutual assured destruction" approach that has characterized U.S.-Soviet relations could result in both sides getting "blown up by nuclear weapons." This would result in devastation and a poisonous atmosphere that he likened to the April, 1986, explosion at the Soviet Union's Chernobyl nuclear plant.

'Where Do People Live?'

"Because suppose you did fire these weapons at each other," he said. "Where do the people live then that are left alive after the explosions? When you've got 135,000 people at Chernobyl who can't return to their homes because of the poison in the entire area!"

Reagan also said that he "wouldn't have been sorry" if Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi had been killed in the April 15, 1986, bombing of Libya because the United States had "absolute indisputable" evidence that Kadafi was behind terrorist killings.

On a more personal matter, Reagan spoke of his close relationship with his wife, Nancy, and talked admiringly of her resilience and quick recovery from a recent mastectomy. He described her as "a tiny little thing" he had nicknamed "a peewee powerhouse" and said that being married to her is "kind of like coming into a warm fire-lit room when you've been out in the cold."

Frost, whose post-Watergate interviews with former President Richard M. Nixon attracted some of the largest audiences on record for a news interview program, questioned Reagan, Carter and Ford about the significance of the Iran-Contra scandal, which surfaced in November, 1986, and evolved into the most severe political crisis of the Reagan presidency.

During his interview, the President--despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary cited by the presidential commission headed by former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.) and congresssional investigating committees--still insisted that the scandal did not involve a sale of arms to Iran in a direct exchange for U.S. hostages held in Beirut.

No Aid to Kidnapers

"I did not see this as trading arms for hostages in the way in which it was done," he declared. He contended he was not doing "anything for the kidnapers" but was selling arms to the Iranians so that they would use their influence to try to free the hostages.

While exclaiming "No! No!" Reagan emphatically rejected any comparison of the Iran-Contra affair with the Nixon Administration's Watergate scandal, which involved a 1972 break-in and wiretapping of the Democratic Party headquarters and a cover-up of the crime that eventually led to impeachment hearings in Congress against Nixon.

(Rather than face an impeachment trial in the Senate, Nixon resigned in August, 1974, after the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment. He was succeeded by then-Vice President Ford.)

On the other hand, Carter, interviewed at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, said: "Irangate is much more serious. Watergate was a . . . relatively insignificant crime of breaking into an office," while the Iran scandal "has damaged our nation in the Mideast Arabian (Persian) Gulf area and internally as well."

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