In final runup to summit, US officials play down outcome
In a final effort to limit expectations for next week's superpower summit, Reagan administration officials insisted yesterday that the United States and the Soviet Union still remain far apart on the two main items on the summit agenda: arms control and regional issues. Speaking to reporters at the White House, Secretary of State George P. Shultz cautioned that odds were no better than ``two chances out of 10'' that agreement could be reached between President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on the outlines of a new arms control proposal. Progress at Geneva, Secretary Shultz said, will be contingent on ``whether the Soviet Union will see the light and see the reasonableness of our position.''
At an earlier news conference Thursday with European and Japanese journalists, Mr. Shultz expressed similar pessimism regarding prospects for resolving key regional disagreements. Shultz cited the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- condemned Wednesday by a lopsided majority at the UN General Assembly -- as an example of ``deep differences . . . about what is going on in various parts of the world where it seems to us there is clear Soviet aggression.''
Nevertheless, Shultz said yesterday that the US welcomed the summit, adding that the first meeting in six years between leaders of the two superpowers could mark a ``genuine new start'' in relations between Washington and Moscow.
Final preparations for the summit were given a boost Wednesday when White House officials announced the outlines of a new agreement calling for the restoration of cultural exchanges between the US and the Soviet Union, suspended after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Reagan officials say the centerpiece of the new proposal will be a series of one-year exchange programs for high school and college students.
The agreement also calls for resuming exchanges of performing-arts groups. In a switch from their former stance, Reagan officials say they now feel such exchanges, by bringing more Soviets to the US, will help reduce levels of misunderstanding between the two superpowers.
The cultural accord is one of several bilateral issues that could be settled during next week's summit. Others include new understandings on ways to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons and confidence-building measures designed to reduce the risk of surprise attack in Europe.
Shultz emphasized the importance of such agreements, saying, ``They can help a little bit in atmospherics, and maybe help in settling things that are broader, deeper, and more difficult.''
But experts caution that it will take agreement on more than these relatively minor issues to make a successful summit.
The main obstacle still is the contentious issue of arms control. Both sides have submitted proposals calling for deep reductions in offensive weapons. But so far no agreement has been reached on the necessary sublimits that would make such an accord possible. In addition, US and Soviet officials are at odds over the issue of President Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative.
In other comments yesterday Shultz dismissed as ``not any big deal'' a Soviet proposal made at the last round of the Geneva arms control talks for immediate cuts of between 200 and 300 in the number of US and Soviet land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The proposal, which the White House formally turned down yesterday, would provide an immediate opportunity for both sides to demonstrate good faith in the coming Geneva talks.
Shultz criticized the Soviet proposal, saying that when you ``start from inequitable levels . . . you don't get to an equitable end point.'' Right now the Soviets have nearly 1,500 land-based ICBMs, compared with just over 1,000 for the US.
Meanwhile, Shultz denied reports that the US and the Soviet Union were close to agreement on a measure to limit the spread of chemical weapons.
Addressing the follow-up to next week's summit, Shultz appeared to leave open the possibility of a joint post-summit Reagan-Gorbachev press conference, similar to the one held by Gorbachev and French President Franois Mitterrand last October in Paris.
Shultz also seemed to leave the door open to possible future meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev. The issue of future summits was discussed when Shultz met with Gorbachev and other Soviet officials in Moscow to hammer out final summit details two weeks ago. In comments to reporters earlier this week, President Reagan said an agreement to meet again would be a ``great measure of success.'' Yesterday, Shultz said the question of whether ``there's life after mid-November'' will depend on the outcome of n ext week's meeting.