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Congressmen, Soviets Trade Views via Live Satellite Hookup

September 23, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Members of Congress and four of their Soviet counterparts debated arms control issues Tuesday during a first-ever live satellite hookup carried on national television in both countries and seen by an estimated 120 million people.

Sparring with House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., over conventional military forces, deputy Soviet defense minister Sergei Akhromejav dismissed U.S. claims of immense Soviet superiority in Europe as ″a legend.″

″You have more attack planes; you have more military helicopters,″ he said.

″We just flat disagree on the facts,″ Aspin responded, citing a much- larger Soviet tank force in the region. But he welcomed Akhromejav’s suggestion that the issue be subject to negotiation.

The exchange was typical, with the two sides disagreeing on specifics but expressing mutual hope for further progress in arms talks between the superpowers.

The topic for the 90-minute discussion was ″mutual security.″ Billed as the first live, unedited broadcast linking the two superpowers, the ″Capital to Capital″ program was carried on ABC television beginning at 11:30 p.m. EDT.

A fair amount of the negotiation came between co-anchors Peter Jennings of ABC and Leonid Zolotarevsky of Soviet state television, as they tried to steer the discussion in sometimes different directions and around a series of U.S. commercial breaks.

At one point Jennings was obliged to explain: ″And now we’re going to do something that those of you in the Soviet Union may not be accustomed to - we’re going to let some of our sponsors try to convince us to buy their products.″

The American participants were Aspin, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and House Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Soviet participants, all deputies of the Supreme Soviet, included Akhromejav; Lev Tolkunov, the chamber’s chairman; Evgeni Velikhov, vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences; and Georji Kornienko, first deputy of the Communist Party’s central committee international department.

Lott at one point complained of a ″continued pattern of aggressive behavior by the Soviet government″ and cited the bugging of the U.S. embassy in Moscow and the downing of Korean Airlines flight 007.

″We have got to get over that hurdle and see what we can do to begin trusting each other,″ he said.

That brought a quick rejoinder from the Soviet moderator, who noted that Lott’s call for cooperation included several longstanding American complaints about the Soviets. He asked if the comments couldn’t be more ″constructive.″

A number of times, a proposal from one side was countered with another, unrelated proposal or question from the other. When Nunn, for example, asked if the Soviets would be willing to reduce tensions by not massing their tanks near European borders, the response was a Soviet question asking why the United States is ″backing away″ from strict verification of nuclear weapons treaties.

The idea for the program was developed by Reps. George Brown Jr., D-Calif., and Claudine Schneider, R-R.I., who organized a group three years ago to arrange such exchanges. A non-broadcast discussion was held via satellite in April.

Brown called Tuesday’s nationally televised program ″an important first step″ toward greater mutual understanding.

The program was co-produced by ABC Television, the Soviet State Committee for Television and Radio, and Internews, a non-profit television company. Organizers say they plan two more such broadcasts, an Oct. 14 discussion of human rights issues and a Nov. 18 program on regional conflicts.

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