Hoping to reassure allies, Bush tours Europe and Shultz visits Asia
Vice President George Bush was in West Berlin, the Communist-encircled outpost where American leaders often enjoy ovations. In the mirrored ballroom of the Inter-Continental Hotel, his delivery was crisp, almost inspirational, as he told some 650 politicians, businessmen and military officers what they wanted to hear. "We are not preparing to fight a nuclear war. We are preparing to deter war. An attack on you is an attack on us." The U.S., said Bush, is ready "to consider and explore any and all reasonable Soviet offers at the negotiating table in Geneva."
Then, as his listeners sipped Riesling wine and broke bread rolls to stave off predinner hunger pangs, Bush unveiled his pièce de résistance: a letter from President Reagan to "the people of Europe." It said: "Just as our allies can count on the United States to defend Europe at all cost, you can count on us to spare no effort to reach a fair and meaningful agreement that will reduce the Soviet nuclear threat. I have asked Vice President Bush to propose to Soviet General Secretary Andropov that he and I meet wherever and whenever he wants in order to sign an agreement banning U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range land-based nuclear missile weapons from the face of the earth." Bush's audience rose and applauded loudly.
Yuri Andropov called the Reagan letter a "propaganda game" and said that it contained "nothing new." In effect, Reagan had made the summit meeting contingent on Andropov's accepting the President's "zero option" proposal, under which the U.S. would cancel plans to deploy 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe starting late this year if the Soviet Union dismantles all 342 of its SS-20 missiles, most of which are aimed at Europe. Said Andropov: "That it is patently unacceptable to the Soviet Union is already generally recognized."
The next day, Reagan acknowledged there was more show than substance to his letter. When reporters aboard Air Force One en route to St. Louis asked whether he was trying to send new signals to the Kremlin through his letter, the President replied with startling candor. "No," he said, "I was simply responding to their vast propaganda effort."
The Soviet Union has, indeed, been waging a skillful peace offensive depicting the U.S. as the obstacle to progress on arms control at the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) negotiations and Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), both of which are under way in Geneva. In sending Bush to Europe and Secretary of State George Shultz to Japan, China and South Korea, the Administration was trying last week to counter the Soviet p.r. blitz with some salesmanship of its own. The American emissaries carried no fresh initiatives of real substance. Instead, they sought to reassure America's allies with friendly rhetoric and promises of flexibility on both arms control and other tender issues. To a large extent, each man succeeded, though Reagan's loose talk about propaganda undercut Bush.