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Reagan's dream

HE doesn't walk like a lame duck, and he certainly doesn't quack like one. Ronald Reagan, the President who has been prematurely written off quite a few times in his political career, doesn't seem to know - certainly not accept - that the pundits have written him off yet again and doubt that there is much more substance to his presidency.

In fact, he seems to be riding high on the strength of last week's agreement on intermediate nuclear missiles with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He is out campaigning for its ratification, trying to win politicians and public to its support.

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In Washington this week, Mr. Reagan, looking vigorous and enthusiastic, bounded on to the platform of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to seek ``consensus'' for his treaty among an audience of movers and shakers.

He told the prestigious think tank that what he and Mr. Gorbachev had done was not a ``superficial shuffling of the nuclear arsenal,'' not a ``rearrangement of numbers,'' but the elimination of a ``great danger to Europe and Asia.'' His tone, while triumphant at success, was moderate and intended to be persuasive.

Striking a reassuring note, he pooh-poohed suggestions that the elimination of intermediate missiles from Europe would ``decouple Europe from America.'' Then on a conciliatory note he said he welcomed the Senate's ratification hearings on the treaty.

Reaching for ``consensus,'' he said he felt sure the hearings would lay anxiety and concerns to rest. With a particular gesture to his critics on the right, he said verification of the removal of missiles would be the ``most stringent in the history of arms control.''

He pledged to keep American troops in Europe. He pledged to monitor NATO's strategy of flexible response. He pledged to move forward with his Strategic Defense Initiative.

He did not look like a president about out of gas. While making a sturdy defense of the treaty he had just negotiated with Gorbachev, he gave the impression of a man eager to get to Moscow and get on with negotiations to reduce long-range strategic missiles.

Reagan wants to cut back those missiles by 50 percent and seems pretty adamant about trying to pull off such an agreement during his presidency. Indeed, the intermediate agreement seems, as Amos A. Jordan, president of the center, said, ``but a way station on the way to further progress'' in nuclear arms reduction.

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We may never see a world free of nuclear weapons, and we certainly will not see that during President Reagan's tenure in the White House. But Reagan hopes that day will come, and this is no recent passion on his part. Those who have listened carefully to what he has said in public, and those who have talked to him privately during his presidency, know he has consistently argued for the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons.

That kind of thinking has not always gone down well among members of his administration. Early in the 1980s, when one Cabinet member returned from a meeting with the President and relayed Reagan's hopes for a nuclear weapon ban, some members of his staff exploded. ``He cannot have that,'' one of them argued. ``Doesn't he know how dangerous a place the world would be without some kind of nuclear deterrent?'' Said the Cabinet member: ``If you think he's wrong, you'd better have a very convincing argument, because this President believes very strongly in a world ultimately free of nuclear weapons.''

That hope may be far from fruition. But Reagan thinks he's moved the world at least a step or two in the right direction.

He believes it is Western steadfastness that has caused the Soviets to come to the bargaining table.

It is a time, he believes, to hold strongly to ``dreams, great dreams,'' of a more peaceful and less dangerous world. Ronald Reagan is having a fine time in the last months of his presidency nudging his dreams a little nearer reality.


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