Reagan's foreign policy agenda remains active. But some key issues are on hold
Is there life after the Moscow summit? While most diplomatic observers see the administration winding down in the six or seven months remaining in the Reagan term, White House officials insist that the foreign policy agenda remains active and potentially productive. They cite these items:
President Reagan next week will attend the economic summit meeting in Toronto.
Intensive work continues on a strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty. Even if a full-blown accord is not completed, the administration will have set a new arms control threshold for the next administration.
With the collapse of talks in Nicaragua, the issue of aid for the contra rebels has surfaced again. Contra leaders have been meeting this week with Secretary of State George Shultz, national security adviser Colin Powell, and congressional leaders to discuss the issue of more funding.
If the United States can bring the Soviets along on the issue of human rights, a negotiating mandate may be worked out between the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries in Vienna for a new set of talks on reducing conventional forces in Europe.
``So there's a whole bag of stuff, given only four months to play with,'' says a White House aide. ``That's quite a bit. There wasn't even that much in the first year of the Reagan presidency.''
To many diplomatic experts, however, the agenda looks quite a bit leaner. The situation in Central America is seen to be deteriorating, with strong man Manuel Antonio Noriega still ensconced in Panama and the right-wing party returning to power in El Salvador. Congress remains divided on the issue of renewing aid for the contras. The Mideast peace initiative of Secretary Shultz is in a holding pattern, pending elections in Israel and the US.
Even the US-Canada free-trade agreement enthusiastically touted by the President has drawn fire on Capitol Hill.
``Only if a new crisis emerged that preoccupied the government would it have to undertake something new,'' says Charles Doran, a scholar at the Johns Hopkins University. ``Otherwise, it's vacation time.''
At the coming economic summit in Toronto, most new initiatives will come from other world leaders because of the growing vacuum in Washington. The French, for example, will be talking about debt reduction, and the Japanese are expected to propose a new plan within the International Monetary Fund to help resolve the third-world debt problem.
President Reagan has signaled that he will ask for huge aid programs for Afghanistan and the Philippines. But mostly the Toronto summit will represent a farewell appearance for the President.
While the talks have broken down in Nicaragua, diplomatic experts note that the cease-fire is still holding and that chances still remain for a negotiated settlement. But within administration circles there appears to be an air of discouragement about developments in the region.
Recently the administration sent Max Kampelman, State Department counselor, to Central America to brief the presidents of the four democracies on the Moscow summit and to assess the current situation in Nicaragua. The very choice of Mr. Kampelman, who is head of the US arms negotiating team in Geneva and highly respected at the White House, reflects the loss of credibility in the region of US policy and of such key players as Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams.
Some Central America observers see the Kampelman mission as a promising sign, indicating that those in the administration who want a settlement in Nicaragua now have the upper hand. It is also thought that the Sandinistas and the contra rebels have political and military reasons for pursuing a negotiated peace.
But the prospects for more military aid for the contras are seen to be slim. The administration is not united on the issue and most members of Congress are still disinclined to renew such assistance. White House officials, however, say some lawmakers are switching their position to considering even lethal aid.
On the issue of conventional forces in Europe, the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries are holding informal talks on working out a negotiating mandate for so-called ``conventional stability talks'' within the framework of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). But in addition to disagreements over the mandate itself, the West is insisting on a ``balanced outcome'' to the current review conference of the CSCE in Vienna, including human rights.
``The Soviets have been playing hardball all along,'' says a State Department official. ``So we're waiting to see if there will be any post-summit activity.''
While some diplomatic issues are on hold, others are receiving close attention in Washington. Administration officials are heartened by prospects for more four-power talks on the conflict in Angola. The US and Soviet Union have set Sept. 29 as the goal for agreement on withdrawal of South African and Cuban forces from the area. Moscow and Washington are also encouraging a settlement in Cambodia, where prospects appear to be improving for withdrawal of Vietnamese forces.