MANCHESTER, N. H. — New York Rep. Jack Kemp, who has been struggling to catch the front-runners in the Republican presidential race here, Monday raised doubts about Vice President George Bush's fidelity to President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as "Star Wars."
Kemp cited a Jan. 11 New Yorker magazine article that says Bush told Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev during the December summit meeting in Washington, D.C., that he was not convinced that the space-based anti-missile defense system will work and was not sure he would deploy it if elected.
Through a spokesman, Bush said late Monday that the Strategic Defense Initiative never came up during his talks with Gorbachev.
Kemp's remarks added a new wrinkle to the effort by Bush's opponents to question both the vice president's leadership potential and his conservative credentials. Bush is the front-runner in the Republican race in New Hampshire, according to public opinion polls. Kemp is running third behind Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.
'Stunned and Shocked'
"If this published report is true," Kemp said, "I'm stunned and shocked and disappointed that in the Republican Party we have candidates who don't understand the importance to the security of the United States of the Strategic Defense Initiative.
"New Hampshire Republicans got a Bush brochure that says that Mikhail Gorbachev has seen the iron behind the smile of George Bush. Well, if this is any evidence of an iron will of the vice president, it clearly points to a weakness in his ability to negotiate with the Soviet Union," Kemp said.
In the past, Bush has referred to "Star Wars" as an effective deterrent. But, although he has advocated research, development and testing, he has not said when or how it should be deployed.
The writer of the New Yorker article, Elizabeth Drew, reported also that she had been told that Dole told Gorbachev during the summit meeting that, while in favor of researching SDI, he "takes a more pragmatic, open-minded view than the President does on whether it should be deployed." The article then quoted Dole as denying that he had made such a statement to Gorbachev.
Kemp said he accepted Dole's denial and would accept one from Bush, but he still issued a broad critique of both candidates.
"It is pretty clear that Bush and Dole would lead us to a policy of compromising SDI, that Bush and Dole would lead us into a tax increase, that they would lead us into an oil import fee, and that Bush and Dole would lead us into either a freeze on Social Security or some kind of compromise on the Social Security system," he said.
When asked if he thought the vice president should disclose what advice he had given Reagan on the Iran-Contra affair--something Bush has refused to divulge--Kemp said: "I think he should come clean on that."