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White House Regrets Gorbachev’s Reaction to Reagan Speech

April 25, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House said Monday it regretted that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev has taken strong exception to President Reagan’s ″accurate″ and ″realistic″ assessment of U.S.-Soviet relations.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater acknowledged that Reagan’s comments, contained in a speech delivered Thursday in Springfield, Mass., had irritated the Soviet leader in advance of the May 29-June 3 Moscow summit.

According to a report by the Soviet news agency Tass, Gorbachev complained to Secretary of State George P. Shultz about the president’s speech during a meeting last week in Moscow.

Gorbachev took Reagan to task for criticizing Soviet policy in Afghanistan and on human rights, the report said.

In his speech, the president questioned whether the Soviets had abandoned ″ambitions″ to control Afghanistan and threaten Pakistan, despite the recent Geneva accord outlining the Soviet pullout. He also said the Soviets could ″never have truly normal relations″ with the United States as long as it violated human rights.

″President Reagan’s comments on East-West relations in his Springfield, Mass., speech obviously struck a raw nerve with the general secretary,″ Fitzwater said when asked about Gorbachev’s comments.

″The very harsh rhetoric used by Tass to describe the president’s speech is most unfortunate. We trust it does not signal a move away from the steadily improving relations that the Soviet Union has espoused in its recent past,″ Fitzwater said.

The spokesman contended that Reagan’s comments signaled no change in U.S. policy and defended the speech as ″accurate in terms of the way we view Soviet intentions″ in countries such as Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Ethiopia.

Fitzwater said there have been ″significant improvements″ in U.S.-Soviet relations in recent years, particularly in the area of arms control, but he added that Reagan ″will continue to be realistic, ... will continue to point out problems as well as positive developments.″

Asked by reporters why it had been appropriate for Reagan to use tough language in describing Soviet actions, but not for Gorbachev to do the same, Fitzwater said, ″It seemed needlessly inflammatory.″

But at another point, the spokesman said the Soviets ″have a right to say anything they want.″

Asked if the administration was pleased it had ″struck a raw nerve″ with Reagan’s speech, Fitzwater replied, ″I don’t regret that it struck a nerve, but I regret that it has caused this kind of personal feelings and trading of harsh language.″

The spokesman said Reagan ″wants to be realistic in terms of our relations, especially as we approach a fourth summit.

″As the president said in his speech, a major test of Soviet intentions is how they conduct their regional political affairs, and he’s simply saying that’s going to be a part of our discussion,″ Fitzwater said.

He said it was Reagan’s intention to ″point out the major issues that divide us, and that two superpowers need to discuss openly and frankly at summits.

″We think its a healthy sign that both countries are willing to face up to the realities of their problems in a summit atmosphere,″ Fitzwater added.

Asked if the situation might put a strain on the upcoming summit between Reagan and Gorbachev, he said, ″I hope not. You just never know.″

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