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Soviet Journalists to Interview Reagan

October 30, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan, seizing an opportunity to explain his views directly to the Soviet people, will be questioned Thursday by four journalists from Moscow in the first interview granted by an American president to the Soviet press in nearly a quarter of a century.

The session is ″a unique and historic opportunity for the president to communicate directly with the people of the Soviet Union,″ said White House spokesman Larry Speakes. ″We hope it is a sign of a new and more open information policy on the part of the Soviet Union.″

No restrictions have been imposed on the Soviets’ questions, although they are likely to focus on Reagan’s summit Nov. 19-20 with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva and superpower relations, Speakes said. He said the United States has not asked to review in advance what will be published.

″They will report it as they wish to report it,″ he said. Likewise, he said there was no requirement for the Soviets to publish the full text of the questions and answers.

″We think a sufficient amount of the interview will be conveyed,″ Speakes said. ″We have no reservations about the matter.″ He said the material probably will be published first on Sunday in the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia, followed by the release of a complete transcript by the White House.

The Soviet press will carry a complete text of the interview, said Alexander Shalnev, the Washington-based correspondent of the Soviet news agency Tass who helped arrange the interview.

He said the questions, focusing on the summit, U.S.-Soviet relations and ″Star Wars,″ would not be sharp-edged or designed to trick Reagan into a misstep. ″That’s not our style,″ Shalnev said.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Reagan has steeped himself in so much information on the summit and has reflected so much on U.S.-Soviet relations that ″they’re not going to ask him anything he hasn’t thought of.″

In other developments related to the summit:

-It was announced that Reagan will address a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. EST on Nov. 21, immediately upon his return from Geneva. On his way back to Washington, Reagan will stop off for two hours in Brussels to report to allied leaders at NATO headquarters on the summit.

-Reagan said he was ″personally hopeful″ and ″striving″ to present a counteroffer - before the summit - to the recent arms proposal from Moscow, which calls for a 50 percent reduction in strategic nuclear weapons. In an interview with Britain’s BBC radio, Reagan said the Soviet proposal contains both ″seeds to nurture″ as well as ″some thing that we believe are so disadvantageous to us that they should be negotiated and some changes made.″

-Reagan, asked by the BBC what he hoped to accomplish in the summit, said, ″I think that the most that we could get out is if we could eliminate some of the paranoia, if we could reduce the hostility, the suspicion that keeps our two countries particularly ... at odds with each other.″

The last time an American president was interviewed by Soviet journalists was on Nov. 25, 1961, when then-President John F. Kennedy was interviewed in the living room of his home in Hyannisport, Mass., by the editor of Izvestia.

In a letter dated Sept. 27, the United States offered to make Reagan available to the Soviet press. The invitation came four weeks after Gorbachev gave an interview in Moscow to ″Time″ magazine and received world-wide publicity by predicting the United States would take a hard line at the summit and expect Moscow to make all the concessions.

On Oct. 12, Shalnev, the Tass correspondent, called the White House and said the offer had been accepted.

The four Soviet journalists, all based in Moscow and described by Speakes as political commentators, flew to Washington on Sunday.

Speakes said the journalists would have about a half hour with Reagan. Their questions will be posed to Reagan in Russian, and translated into English by an interpeter. Reagan’s replies will not be translated into Russian on the spot because of the journalists’ fluency in English, Speakes said.

The White House will provide the Soviets with a Russian language translation of the interview, Speakes said.

″We will certainly be able to read their newspaper to see if it is published in its entirety and see if the translation agrees with our translation,″ Speakes added.

He said the Soviets have not replied yet to a longstanding U.S. proposal for Reagan to appear on Soviet television.

The four journalists who will interview Reagan are Gennady Shishkin of Tass, Stanislav Kondrashov of Izvestia, Genrikh Borovik of the news service Novosti and Vsevolod Ovchinnikov of the Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda. Shalnev, who covers the White House on a daily basis, also will be present as an ″honored and special guest,″ Speakes said.

In another development, Speakes said the White House tried to set up a pre- summit meeting of Reagan and former Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, but was not able to arrange it because of scheduling problems.