WASHINGTON — A panel of former senior government officials, in a report from the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, urged the Bush Administration on Monday to avoid any "wholesale rethinking" of the U.S.-Soviet arms control process inherited from the Reagan Administration.
"The current outline of a START (for strategic arms reduction talks) agreement is about as good as can be expected at the present stage and is generally in the U.S. security interest," according to the 11-member bipartisan panel led by Harold Brown and James R. Schlesinger, former defense secretaries from Democratic and Republican administrations, respectively.
At a press briefing, Brown said he fears that if the talks are pushed "too far back on the back burner, they may not get done at all in the first term (of the Bush Administration), which would be a big mistake." Those talks, aimed at reducing offensive nuclear weapons by about half, resumed last week in Geneva.
The report on the future of U.S.-Soviet relations also said that superpower cooperation in limiting arms sales to volatile regions such as the Persian Gulf and Middle East "provides a real test of the willingness of each side to forgo a marginal political advantage over the other in the Third World."
But Schlesinger said that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev so far has not shown such willingness. In fact, "last week Gorbachev failed this test," Schlesinger said, by agreeing to help strengthen the military capability of Iran. That agreement came during a visit to Moscow by Hashemi Rafsanjani, Speaker of Iran's Parliament.
The overall report generally was supportive of the cautious approach of the Bush Administration to the Soviet Union, calling it "wise" for avoiding the apocalyptic as well as the romantic view of events there.
Opportunities resulting from Gorbachev's reforms and "new thinking" should be investigated "realistically but boldly" to explore fully their potential for further improvements in U.S.-Soviet relations, the report said. But uncertainties about the future are too great to justify "extraordinary political or economic concessions," it added.
Other members of the group included another former defense secretary, Melvin R. Laird; former Secretaries of State Cyrus R. Vance and Edmund S. Muskie; former Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal and Commerce Secretary Peter G. Peterson; former U.S. Ambassadors to Moscow Arthur A. Hartman and Thomas J. Watson Jr.; David M. Abshire, U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the Reagan Administration, and former CIA chief Richard M. Helms.
Brown said that the United States and Soviet Union could move beyond their present emphasis on arms control and force balances to devise "a new political relationship" that includes Eastern and Western Europe as well as the superpowers themselves. From that new relationship, they should determine new military and arms control policies, he said.
The panel report also endorsed the Bush Administration's proposal last month on conventional arms cuts in Europe by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact nations, although Brown said that the President's target of six to 12 months for a new agreement is "unrealistic."
Brown said that by pushing the new conventional force talks and also conducting the START negotiations, "there is some risk of loading the plate too full and in reorganizing priorities" toward the conventional arms cuts. "But it's not a high risk yet," he said.