MOSCOW — "If Ronald Reagan didn't believe in Santa Claus before, he will now," James West, an American Communist, said here Wednesday.
"Furthermore," West said with a sardonic smile, "Reagan can understand now why Santa Claus wears a red suit."
This was West's roundabout way of saying that he believes the President has personally profited from the treaty he and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev signed Tuesday in Washington that promises to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
Former Shipyard Worker
West, 79, an official of the Communist Party of America, is a wiry, gray-haired former Seattle shipyard worker who now lives in Jersey City, N.J. He is in Moscow for a conference on the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the contemporary world. He appeared at a news conference and amplified some of his remarks later in an interview.
"For Reagan," he said, "it has been a bad year. Irangate, his decline in popularity, the stock market crash--a bad year. That's why he must think this agreement has come from Santa Claus.
"For the American people it has been a happy end to a sad year--unemployment, a rise in the number of homeless. But for the American people the best gift of all is the promise that nuclear war can be averted."
He said that if Gorbachev were running for President of the United States, he would have a good chance of being elected.
He described the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting as "a great event, particularly if they agree to follow up with a reduction in strategic nuclear weapons by 50%."
"I particularly hope both sides abide by the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty," he said, "and I am glad that SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative, didn't interfere with the agreement. I view it as a down-payment on a nuclear-weapons-free world."
Sees Link to Party Fortunes
West suggested that the agreement on intermediate-range weapons might help the flagging fortunes of the American Communist Party. Its membership, never large, has been on the decline.
He said he thinks the agreement "will take the wind out of the sails of those who are always shouting 'Soviet threat.' " The "myth has been greatly deflated," he went on, "and also the conception in the mass media that always identifies communism with the Soviet Union."
"Now that American attitudes toward the Soviet Union might change for the better," he said, "attitudes toward the American Communist Party might do the same."