President Reagan's offer to meet Soviet leader Yuri Andropov for an agreement banning all medium-range missiles in Europe brought generally favorable comments in Western Europe today, despite Andropov's quick rejection of its terms.
In general, the comments were addressed to the desirability of a summit meeting rather than to the specific merits of Reagan's "zero option" plan.
Vice President George Bush, who announced Reagan's offer in West Berlin last night, flew here today after a two-day visit to West Germany. The effect of Reagan's offer, Bush said in a press conference in West Berlin, "is to lay to rest, I hope, the argument that he is unwilling to meet Mr. Andropov. . . . This says, let's get on with serious negotiations at Geneva so we can ban an entire generation of awesome nuclear weapons."
Hans Jochen Vogel, the Social Democratic opposition candidate for chancellor of West Germany, met with Bush and afterward described Reagan's offer of a meeting with Andropov as a "positive development. It is the first time Reagan has offered such a step and we greet it. It is progress."
Vogel and and a substantial section of the Social Democratic Party have been lukewarm to the NATO-approved plan to deploy 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles beginning in December unless a new arms agreement with the Russians is reached in negotiations at Geneva.
In London, French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson told reporters he welcomed Reagan's offer and favored "a dialogue between the two superpowers."
British Labor Party spokesman Denis Healey dismissed the offer as "basically public relations and not very good public relations." But Foreign Secretary Francis Pym disagreed, although he acknowledged in a radio interview that "it is basically a repeat of the zero option."
At his press conference, Bush was asked repeatedly whether the president's offer to meet with Andropov was really a proposal for a full-scale summit where many issues could be discussed or just a publicity stunt.
Bush said the president's letter is "a statement that narrows such a meeting to one clear purpose." A broader summit could take place if there were extensive preparations, he added, although "the suggestion made by Reagan last night does not preclude nor does it include" a wider meeting.
In the Netherlands tonight, at a dinner hosted by Queen Beatrix, Bush warned that the Soviets are persisting "in their strenuous efforts to isolate us from one another."
After Bush talked briefly about U.S. arms control efforts, the queen in her response made no mention of the missile question. But she did call for "guarding our mutual friendship. Let us hold on to each other in the days ahead, because America and Europe need each other."
The Netherlands is supposed to receive 48 cruise missiles in 1986, but there is very strong opposition to this here and actual deployment is viewed as unlikely.