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Conservatives Hit Reagan on Treaty : One Calls President 'a Useful Idiot' of Soviets; Criticism of Accord Mounts

December 05, 1987|JAMES GERSTENZANG and ROBERT SHOGAN | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — President Reagan encountered a growing storm of criticism Friday from conservatives over the intermediate-range nuclear missile treaty scheduled to be signed with the Soviet Union next week, with one critic denouncing him as a "useful idiot for Soviet propaganda."

That blast from Howard Phillips, head of the Conservative Caucus, was followed by another from conservative, direct-mail fund-raiser Richard Viguerie, who declared: "He has quit the fight and left the field of battle."

And Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), in a White House meeting, challenged Reagan's remarks that critics of the treaty are uninformed.

The heated rebukes further illustrate that Reagan, in attempting to complete what he views as the capstone foreign policy achievement of his Administration, has unalterably parted company with some staunch backers and will have to rely on support from liberal Democrats to win ratification of his long-sought treaty.

White House Confident

White House officials, while declining official comment on Friday's outburst, indicated confidence that all but the most hard-line conservatives would eventually be won over and that the treaty would be approved.

But the critical blast marred the atmosphere of triumph that the White House has been striving to create around next week's summit with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. And it drew further attention to the uncomfortable fact that--with the exception of Vice President George Bush--all of the GOP contenders to succeed Reagan are also openly denouncing the treaty or declining to back it.

The treaty--the result of talks that began in November, 1981--would eliminate from the U.S. and Soviet arsenals all ground-launched nuclear missiles with a range between 300 and 3,000 miles. The President and Gorbachev are scheduled to sign the agreement on Tuesday at the White House.

On Friday, Reagan called Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to the White House to review the pact and assure them that, contrary to the conservatives' charges, it would not dangerously undercut the security of the United States and its Western allies.

Challenged Reagan

But Dole, in the GOP delegation, quickly challenged Reagan. He took issue with the President's comments in a television interview Thursday that the treaty's opponents did not understand the agreement and had closed their minds to any accord with the Soviets.

"There was a good strong colloquy in there between Mr. Dole and the President," said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), among those present.

Reagan told Dole that he thought the treaty's critics should read the document before opposing it, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.

Warner said the "slight misunderstanding" was cleared up before the meeting ended. Dole left the White House without talking to reporters. In his campaign appearances for the Republican presidential nomination, he has been noncommittal about the treaty, saying he wanted to examine its provisions thoroughly before taking any stand.

The hard-line conservatives who blasted Reagan emphasized that their concerns about the pact would not be assuaged.

Led by Viguerie and Phillips, whose organization is a grass-roots lobbying group, they called a press conference to announce formation of the "Anti-Appeasement Alliance" to rally public opposition to the treaty.

Phillips said Reagan had become "a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda" and "a weak man with a strong wife and a strong staff"--a reference to reports that First Lady Nancy Reagan strongly urged Reagan to complete the arms control agreement.

Reagan "is little more than the speech reader-in-chief for the pro-appeasement triumvirate of Howard Baker, George Shultz and Frank Carlucci," he said. Baker is the White House chief of staff, Shultz is the secretary of state and Carlucci is the newly appointed secretary of defense. All have been criticized frequently by conservatives as overly moderate in foreign policy matters.

Viguerie, an early Reagan supporter who has become increasingly critical of him in recent years, asserted: "One thing is unanimous among the President's longtime supporters: that he has quit the fight and left the field of battle in many important matters.

"In other important matters he has changed sides and he is now allied with his former adversaries, the liberals, the Democrats and the Soviets," said Viguerie, a specialist in fund raising for conservative causes.

Bitter Remarks

Like others at the news conference, Viguerie bitterly lashed back at Reagan for his slap at conservatives in the television interview.

In the White House session with four network anchormen, Reagan said, "The objections that we are hearing--and, yes, from some of our own, you might say, allies and own forces--they are based on a lack of knowledge as to what this treaty contains, and particularly are they ignorant of the advances that have been made in verification" that will assure compliance by both sides with the terms of the agreement.

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