Reagan urges broader policy base
In a major foreign policy address today, President Reagan was expected to renew his call for a bipartisan foreign policy. But the President's chances of getting a response to that appeal from many leading Democrats are slim.
Part of the unfavorable short-term outlook for a bipartisanship obviously has to do with election-year politics. Few Democrats are going to go out of their way in an election year to make a Republican president look good.
But part of it has to do with the Democrats' disagreements with Mr. Reagan on fundamental issues - Central America and arms control questions being the most prominent at the moment. Despite his proposals to reopen or reinvigorate negotiations with the Soviet Union on a wide range of issues, Reagan is seen by Democrats to be placing too much emphasis on the use of military force, or at least the threat to use such force.
At his news conference on Wednesday, the President announced he was sending Vice-President George Bush to Geneva to present the 40-nation disarmament conference there with ''a bold American initiative'' for a comprehensive, worldwide ban on chemical weapons. Reagan's supporters argue that this is one more sign that the President is prepared to lower tensions with the Soviet Union and move ahead on arms control.
But critics, including many Democrats in the Congress, view the initiative as an election-year move. They note that administration officials themselves are fully aware of how difficult it would be to verify a ban on chemical weapons. And some critics argue that the administration ought to be moving instead toward a US-Soviet ban on the testing of antisatellite (ASAT) weapons, as proposed by the Soviet Union last August.
Asked at his press conference whether a failure to negotiate on this issue could lead to an arms race in space, President Reagan said that ''this is a situation in which the Soviet Union is ahead of us and already has . . . in place such a weapon.'' He also noted that the Soviets have been reluctant, in any treaty, to agree to verification procedures. What the President neglected to mention is that the American ASAT weapon now being tested is regarded by scientists as more sophisticated than the Soviet weapon to which he referred.
Where both Democrats and Republicans agree at the moment is that in response to most of the Reagan administration's major initiatives, the Soviet leaders are ''stonewalling.'' The two sides have held talks recently concerning a possible resumption of negotiations on new consulates and cultural exchanges. But when it comes to major arms control negotiations or talks concerning third-world conflicts, no movement is apparent.
When asked why relations are in a state of stalemate, if not deterioration, Republicans and Democrats produce differing answers. Reagan administration officials argue that the Soviet Union is not responding to many of the President's initiatives at the moment because the Soviet leadership has been in a state of transition. Until the Soviets sort out their internal alignments, the officials say, they will be incapable of acting decisively on American proposals.
At a conference on Thursday devoted to the subject of forging bipartisan policies, one prominent Sovietologist Seweryn Bialer of Columbia University, declared that the Soviets, by the fall of last year, had made a decision that ''no business can or should be done with the Reagan administration.''
On the previous day, on a more optomistic note, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, told participants at the same conference organized by Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies, that any rational analysis of Soviet or American ''dynamics'' would tend to lead to a US-Soviet ''dialogue.'' Kissinger predicted that negotiations with the Soviets will resume either shortly before or after the American presidential election. He warned, however, that the US must be patient - and not seem overanxious for talks - or the Soviets will simply try to wait the US out.
But critics of the administration, many of them Democrats, argue that President Reagan set the wrong tone with the Soviets from the outset, missed opportunities for arms control progress, and still place military considerations ahead of a desire to compromise with the Soviets. Some argue that administration has strengthened the hand of Kremlin ''hawks,'' such as Defense Minister Dmitri F. Ustinov.
This critique promises to be a major campaign theme from the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, whoever that may be.
Congressional foreign affairs specialists working with Democratic senators and congressmen, meanwhile, say they expect President Reagan to try to take the ''high ground'' in his speech on foreign policy.
''While Hart and Mondale chew each other up, Reagan has got to look like he's walking the high road,'' said one staff specialist. ''At the same time, he's making a lot of demagogic cuts at his opposition.''
The staff aide was referring to Reagan's attempt to blame congressional opposition for the administration's reversal in Lebanon. At his Wednesday press conference, Reagan accused the Congress of ''stimulating the terrorists'' by calling for a withdrawal of the American marines from Lebanon.
The President told reporters that in the last 10 years the Congress has imposed about 150 restrictions on the president's power in international diplomacy. He defended Secretary of State George P. Shultz's recent statements on the subject of military strength, arguing that such strength is ''a definite part of diplomacy.''
But candidates Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, and Walter Mondale have accused Reagan of overemphasizing military strength, particularly in Central America.
Reagan, in the meantime, has possibly taken a significant step toward clarifying his position on Nicaragua. On Wednesday, he sent a letter to Howard Baker, the Senate majority leader, saying that ''the United States does not seek to destabilize or overthrow the government of Nicaragua; nor to impose or compel any particular form of government there.''