Arms control: how US, Europe view Reagan's words; President rushes to counter nuclear freeze movement
President Reagan's latest statement on nuclear arms is not likely to slow the growing nuclear freeze movement, according to a number of analysts here.
What is needed to offset the movement, they say, is the opening of US-Soviet talks on limiting strategic nuclear weapons and a perception that America is serious about negotiating.
Administration officials leave the impression that they were caught napping by the freeze movement and are desperately trying to counter it. Officials say that they will be able to present the President with alternative proposals for strategic arms reductions within a matter of only a few weeks.
But critics of the administration's approach say that it has been much too slow to develop such proposals and that, until only recently at least, the administration was juggling as many as 8 to 10 options for arms reduction talks.
In his March 31 press conference, President Reagan said that possibly this summer a US team would be ready to enter strategic arms negotiations. But he also said that setting a date would ''depend somewhat on the whole international situation.'' This could mean that a tense situation in Poland would delay the start of such talks.
The President did not break much new ground in his news conference. But one of his statements did startle some arms control specialists: The President asserted that the Soviet Union had achieved a ''definite margin of superiority'' over the United States in nuclear weaponry. In the past, other presidents have spoken of adverse trends in the nuclear weapons balance, but they have also contended that the US and Soviet arsenals stood in rough parity.
Some specialists think that it was not wise for President Reagan to go as far as he did in speaking of American nuclear weakness because it could undermine the confidence of allied nations in the US nuclear deterrent.
But the President's main purpose in holding the press conference was clearly to counter the perception that the US is not seriously pursuing arms control talks and that the US and USSR are drifting closer to nuclear war. Reagan said in an opening statement that he wants ''an agreement on strategic nuclear weapons that reduces the risk of war, lowers the level of armaments, and enhances global security.''
The President said that a freeze on nuclear weapons would be disadvantageous -- even dangerous -- to the US. In his view, it would ''militate against any negotiations'' for a reduction in nuclear weapons. ''If they're out ahead and we're behind and we're asking them to cut down and join us in getting down to a lower level, there isn't much of an incentive,'' he said.
Top administration officials dealing with arms control are known to believe that the only thing that will give the Soviets an incentive to negotiate a reduction in medium-range nuclear weapons based in Europe will be an allied decision to go ahead with the planned deployment of new US missiles in Europe.
Two weeks ago, Soviet President Brezhnev proposed that the two sides freeze the deployment of missiles in Europe. Administration officials argued that this was the equivalent of saying, ''All right, now that the United States is behind, let's freeze.''
Not surprisingly, the Soviet news media criticized Reagan's press conference statements. The Novosti news agency said that the President's comments did not contain even a hint of a constructive proposal that could promote progress in arms control.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, the co-author of an immediate nuclear freeze proposal, said that Reagan was saying, in effect, that the US has to build more nuclear weapons in order to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.