President Reagan gave a personal farewell in the Oval Office Monday evening to Maj. Gen. Robert L. Schweitzer, the National Security Council member who was fired after giving a hard-line speech on Soviet intentions described as more pessimistic than the president's view.
White House national security adviser Richard V. Allen, who fired Schweitzer, arranged the Oval Office occasion, he said, because "it was the decent thing to do."
In addition to the president, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger attended what Allen called a brief, photo-taking occasion.
In a speech to hundreds of Army officers last week, Schweitzer said there is a "drift toward war" and that the Soviet Union is going to strike. The nation, Schweitzer said, is in "the greatest danger the republic has ever faced since its founding days."
The president told Schweitzer the White House is looking into an assignment for him and that the final decision will be made by the secretary of defense, the secretary of the Army and the Army chief of staff. At the Pentagon, an Army spokesman, Col. Michael Vargosko, maintained that Schweitzer's assignment "will be handled just like any other officer's."
Participants in the seven-minute Oval Office meeting posed for pictures but did not dwell on the remarks that cost Schweitzer his job. In a reference to the shooting of Reagan last March, Schweitzer, whose decorations include seven Purple Hearts, is said to have told the president:
"I had the same wounds you had when I was 38, and I wouldn't want them now at 53--and I can't imagine having them at your age."
The president, who is 70, is said to have responded: "Well, I know what it is like to have been shot once, but I can't imagine what it is like to have been shot seven times."
Replied Schweitzer: "It was nine different times, actually."
Talking about his controversial speech in an interview yesterday, Schweitzer said: "I'm neither a rebel nor a crusader. I was asked to give a strategic assessment. And I gave one."
He said he was not bitter about being fired because of his speech, adding that "civilian leadership is a tradition that this nation has, and we in the military all feel that way deeply."
He said he was sorry that his remarks had become the focus of a public controversy that brought about his firing. He said that published speculation that he had spoken out so strongly in order to force his way into another assignment was "nonsense, total nonsense."
He added: "Like any soldier worth his salt, I'd rather be with troops, with people, than working a desk."
Schweitzer's conversation with Reagan in the Oval Office marked the second time he has talked with the president since being ousted from his NSC position. On the day he was fired, he said, the president phoned him and spoke complimentarily of the job he had done on the NSC staff. Reagan also discussed possible job reassignments, the general said, adding:
"It was a very moving phone call for me."