Official U.S.-Soviet relations are so bad, retired Air Force Gen. Brent Scowcroft said yesterday, that the two governments might have a better chance of easing tensions if they could turn to a new kind of private discussion altogether out of public view.
Scowcroft, who headed the presidential commission on the MX missile, on whose recommendations the House is expected to vote today, told reporters he was convinced that President Reagan "was sincerely interested in making progress in arms control" and that "he is prepared to make a deal." Scowcroft also said the Soviets seem "open at the present time to negotiations."
There is no progress in sight in the two sets of nuclear arms talks in Geneva, however, and Scowcroft said "my perception is that official relations are really very bad." In such an environment, he said, "it is not easy to get started" on an arms agreement despite what may be readiness on both sides.
"There are not a number of what I would call good contacts" between the two governments, he said. But "one way to break out of the considerable depths of suspicion would be to initiate some private kind of talks, away from the spotlight, where neither side has to worry about being perceived as caving in or making concessions, even as the one who requested such talks," he said.
Scowcroft, who had breakfast with reporters and met later in the day with Reagan, said the president clearly has "some emotional views about the Soviet Union and what it represents that are strong and fixed and that he will never change. But he is also pragmatic . . . , and while he may not have a precise idea of a formula for an arms agreement , he really does want to make progress."
Although some early administration rhetoric about nuclear weapons and war undoubtedly scared some people, Scowcroft said, it also was meant to correct earlier misperceptions that U.S. forces might be only a facade of strength. Scowcroft said he thought the Soviets were able to distinguish between actions and rhetoric in Washington and that "rhetoric will not stand in the way" if an agreement is possible.
Reagan, he said, had become "more aware" of what "you can and can't get" from the Soviets in negotiations.
The Soviets, he said, are "defensive and apprehensive about this administration and partly as a result of that are reluctant to be making a gesture toward negotiations."
He said the Soviets, "at this stage in their history, are not a bellicose, aggressive power in the sense of high risk-taking. Quite the contrary." Although Moscow has no stake in maintaining the current world order, the Soviet leaders are "conservative, low-risk" people who tend to "recede when confronted with strength that they cannot avoid . . . ."
Scowcroft said he thought the threat of nuclear war, which is "unlikely" to begin with, is "declining fairly steadily." One reason is that 14 years of arms talks have helped each side get to know each other's capabilities better, he said.
"In a strange way," he added, the proliferation of each side's atomic arsenal has also made the "contemplation of a successful nuclear attack by either side more remote."