Former President Gerald R. Ford warned today that a massive military buildup by the Soviet Union has "quickened in intensity," thereby imperiling a meaningful strategic arms agreement between the nuclear superpowers.
The arms race, Ford said, "mocks the hope of peace" and assures that the upcoming SALT II negotiations will be more difficult.
In a speech to the Eisehower Exchange Fellowships, Inc., here, Ford said that while the electoral process causes changes in faces and parties in the United States, basic foreign policy remains the same, and that Soviet leaders should be assured that, "every responsible leader in this country, regardless of political affiliation, is committed to the success of these talks, and that all stand behind the President and his associates . . ."
The sponsors of the luncheon meeting had billed the speech as the former President's first major foreign policy address since leaving office, but an aide to Ford said later that he did not consider it a major policy message.
In fact, Ford deleted from his prepared text a reference to the protracted Senate debate over the confirmation of chief U.S. arms negotiator Paul Warnke. It had said that the debate signaled a warning to Soviet leaders that the military buildup "has not escaped our attention, and the United States will not accept a treaty that leaves our national stcurity in jeopardy."
Ford's 20-minute speech before the 100 guests at the exclusive Union Club on Manhattan's East Side contained not even an oblique criticism of President Carter's policies. Nor did it include mention of Carter's feud with Soviet leaders over human rights.
The Eisenhower fellowship group, of which Ford assumed the presidency three days after leaving the White House, includes 21 young policy-makers from foreign countries who are spending several weeks in the United States under the sponsorship of major corporations and business leaders.
Ford whsoe speech was larded with references to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, said Eishenhower "saw the fear and gloom" associated with the arms race, and recognized as much as any President that it led to a "constant robbery of resources available for human needs worldwide.
During his two-day visit to New York, Ford is scheduled to meet with NBC television executives to iron out details of his and Mrs. Ford's contracts for television appearances.
On Thursday he is scheduled to return to Washington for the first time since leaving office. He scheduled meetings include a 30-minute session with Carter at the White House Thursday, and a meeting with the Republican congressional leadership on Friday.