Reagan Displays Pre-Summit Conciliatory Tone Toward Soviets
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan is softening his sharply anti-Soviet rhetoric as the Moscow summit nears, a meeting he contends shouldn’t have ″a winner or a loser.″
Reagan, in a speech Wednesday in Chicago, offered a startling amount of praise for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the human rights reforms he’s begun.
The president’s remarks came in sharp contrast to a speech he gave April 21, in which he lambasted the Soviet role in Afghanistan and suggested they wouldn’t keep their pledge to withdraw from their neighboring country.
In his address to the National Strategy Forum, a group concerned with foreign policy and national strategy issues, Reagan lauded Gorbachev for loosening restrictions on religion, freedom of speech, press and emigration.
″We applaud the changes that have taken place and encourage the Soviets to go farther,″ Reagan said. ″We recognize that changes occur slowly but that is better than no change at all.″
Reagan’s speech was the next-to-last in a series of addresses designed to highlight the issues he intends to raise at the summit in Moscow with Gorbachev, set for May 29-June 2.
″In recent months, the Soviet Union has shown a willingness to respect at least some human rights. It is my belief that there is hope for further change, hope that in the days ahead the Soviets will grant further recognition to the fundamental civil and political rights of all,″ Reagan said.
He took note of a development he termed ″of tremendous significance″ in recent months, that the Soviets themselves are beginning to talk and print stories about economic shortages in their country.
The president also said some 300 political and religious prisoners had been released from labor camps over the last three years, and that the incarceration of dissidents in mental hospitals and prisons has slowed, and in some cases, stopped.
While Reagan said much religious activity remains repressed in the Soviet Union, but controls have been relaxed.
He added that he is ″heartened″ by the progress made in the increased numbers allowed to emigrate, as well as the loosening of controls on family visits.
The president acknowledged that the United States has its own problems with homelessness, racial discrimination and unemployment. Moscow has used the problems in an attempt to counter U.S. criticisms of Soviet human rights policies. In a bow to Soviet concerns, Reagan said their critique ″deserves a full response.″
In a brief question and answer session with the audience, Reagan said he was willing to give Gorbachev ″the benefit of the doubt, up to a point″ - that the Soviet leader sincerely wants to achieve the program of economic and social reforms known as ″glasnost.″
The president said he believes Gorbachev is pursuing the reforms because of economic problems in the Soviet Union.
Reagan said he hoped he could offer Gorbachev some suggestions at the summit on how he could move ahead with glasnost.
″That, I think, is preferable to staging a kind of contest with him so that someone looks like a winner or loser,″ Reagan said.
White House Communications Director Tom Griscom denied Reagan’s remarks were designed to mollify Gorbachev, who took issue with Reagan’s anti-Soviet attacks during a recent meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz.
Griscom argued that Reagan’s approach to the Soviets was consistent, but that his speeches varied because he addressed different topics.
The president also played down expectations for the Moscow meeting, saying he didn’t expect to sign a new treaty on long-range strategic missiles. He added that both he and Gorbachev were ″hopeful″ their pact banning medium- range weapons could be ready for signing, but noted the U.S. Senate hasn’t moved rapidly to approve the pact.
Reagan said he continued to look for additional changes in the Soviet Union, but was realistic, given Soviet history.
He said the West has observed progress before, only to see it wither away.
That, Reagan said, was the reason U.S. dealings with the Soviets must be based on ″candor and realism.″
″Just as previous hopeful moments in Soviet history ended all too soon, so, too, glasnost, - today’s new candor - will succeed if the Soviets take steps to make it permanent, to institutionalize it,″ Reagan said.