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Interview With Eleanor Cliff, Jack Nelson, and Joel Havemann of the Los Angeles Times

June 23, 1986

Arms Control

Q. Mr. President, Senator Paul Laxalt, your old friend, said that early on in your administration, not long after the assassination attempt, that he told you he thought that the Lord saved you out there on the sidewalk, not so much to save the economy but to save the world, and that what he meant by that—to reach some sort of an arms control agreement with the Soviets. And he said you didn't disagree with that. Now, you've recently in the speech at Glassboro said that you are firmly committed to an arms reduction. I was just wondering, the Soviets have made a proposal now for deep reduction in offensive weapons in return for some restraint on deployment of the space-based defense. Can you accept that in principle?

The President. Well, almost all of them in principle—there have been, you know, like the figures and so forth, talking of the weapons. I think because of the mix that each of us sees, we have chosen a different way to go—with what we call the triad-than they have. They've placed more reliance on the intercontinental. And so, there are things that have to be negotiated and worked out. Now, we're still in the process of studying their latest proposal. But I am encouraged because—not only this one but the first proposals that they began making—it's, to my knowledge, the first time that the Soviets have ever proposed actually reducing the number of weapons.

Q. Well, you may be able to accept that in principle, then—that proposal?

The President. Yes, but don't pin me down on this, because, as I say, we're still studying this and—

Q. Yes. The other thing is just what kind of priority do you give—I mean, how high a priority do you give on arms control or arms reduction? Would it be possible, for example, to raise the level of the Geneva talks from ambassadorial level to the level of foreign minister to accelerate the progress there?

The President. Well, I don't know. Our negotiators there, we think, are very capable, and I assume the Soviets think theirs are, too. But whatever way is necessary to get an agreement, we'll do. Eventually, of course, it has to come back to the top. And, therefore, if the General Secretary and I could in a forthcoming summit arrive at some agreements there, and then hand it over to our negotiators to put it down on paper and work out the details—but we agreed, as you say, in principle, then, on all the major elements—that would probably help shortcut it, instead of waiting for something to come back to us and then having to go through it, dotting every "i" and so forth. As I say, this has been my belief and my goal long before I came here. The previous efforts at arms—which have literally only been a kind of legitimizing of a continued arms increase—I've been critical of those. That was why I spoke as harshly as I did about a couple of those stories.

Q. Is it your highest priority for a second term?

The President. I think that this could be as important a thing for the world at large. If anything is to remove this menace—for the world to sit here with the MAD policy, as it's called—and it is mad, even though it means mutual assured destruction. The idea that we're going to base our hopes for peace on each being able to destroy the other and, therefore, hoping that no one will suddenly go mad and push the button.

Q. Mr. President, I would like to see if I can't get you to be a little more specific on what it is you don't like about the latest Soviet offer. Is it the level of reductions? Is it the link to the ABM treaty? Is it verification? Can you tell us what is—

The President. It's things of that kind that have to be ironed out, that are not specific, and that we might, in some instance, find ourselves in disagreement. We've announced our willingness several times of changed figures to approximate theirs in which we're willing to buy any substantial reduction as long as we both are aiming eventually at the total elimination.

Q. So, you do have problems in all of those three areas—with the link to the ABM treaty? I mean, that's a crucial part of their latest offer.

The President. As I say, we're still studying those things. And I'm waiting for some of the people who are dealing with the exact terms—for us to get together and sit down and see what our positions really are.

Q. As a matter of principle, is some sort of hold-down on SDI, some sort of delay in the deployment of the SDI—is that acceptable as part of the package?

The President. We know that this has been of great concern to them—the SDI. On the other hand, we believe that this is one of the most hopeful things that's come along in a long time: with the idea of making it possible for us mutually to depend more on defensive systems than on just the threat of overpowering offensive systems. And we have some ideas about that, too, which we think will be forthcoming when we start responding to their latest proposal.

Soviet-U.S. Summit Meeting

Q. I just want to ask you, on a sort of a lighter

Note: The interview began at 11:31 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. Larry M. Speakes was Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President. The final question referred to the President's postoperative examination at Bethesda Naval Hospital on June 20.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With Eleanor Cliff, Jack Nelson, and Joel Havemann of the Los Angeles Times Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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