Democratic National Chairman Charles T. Manatt yesterday put his party and its presidential candidates on record in favor of a mutual and verifiable nuclear freeze, and immediately ran into a protest from former Florida governor Reubin Askew, who is opposing the freeze in his presidential campaign.
Manatt said that he had cleared his remarks, delivered to a student audience at Georgetown University, with the seven announced candidates for the Democratic nomination. But an Askew spokesman said that he could find no evidence that Democratic National Committee officials had been in contact with Askew's campaign.
Manatt's speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the signing of the limited nuclear test ban treaty was an effort to draw a distinction between the arms control policies of the Reagan administration and those of the Democrats.
"The seven distinguished candidates currently seeking our party's presidential nomination understand something which the present occupant of the White House does not: that arms control is vital to the security of this nation and to the survival of humanity itself," Manatt said.
He added, "Contrary to the Reagan Republican Party's continued opposition to halting the arms race now, the Democratic Party calls for a mutual and verifiable freeze on the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons now."
Askew's press secretary, James Bacchus, said, "Gov. Askew agrees wholeheartedly that arms control is very much needed, and he agrees that the current administration has not done nearly enough to achieve arms control. But he has not endorsed a nuclear freeze for the simple reason he doesn't believe a freeze would achieve meaningful arms control, much less arms reductions."
Bacchus also said that he had been "unable to find anyone on our campaign who has talked to anyone at the DNC about Chairman Manatt's speech," adding that he also could not find any written communication about it.
However, Manatt said at a news conference after his speech that his staff had consulted with all the campaigns and that all had in general approved of the speech.
Asked specifically whether Askew had signed off on the speech, Manatt said, "Yes, to the degree that we can understand and have had a chance to review it with Gov. Askew, that would be the case."
DNC spokesman Robert Neuman later said that a DNC staff member had cleared language with an Askew staff member.
Manatt said his address was an attempt to define the consensus within his party and the presidential campaigns on the arms control issue. He noted that delegates to the Democrats' 1982 midterm convention in Philadelphia had approved a resolution supporting a freeze. Askew's campaign was not involved in drafting that resolution.
In his speech yesterday Manatt repeatedly attacked the Reagan administration for "foot-dragging and delay" on nuclear arms reduction talks, and accused the president of attempting to convert the moral outrage over the Soviet Union's destruction of a South Korean airliner into support for increasing U.S. procurement of nuclear weapons.
"As outraged as we are, we are not prepared to have one moral outrage justify another," Manatt said. "We are not willing to have the murders of 269 civilians on an airliner justify the further escalation of the arms race."
He said that his party favors efforts to reduce nuclear and conventional forces, an improved system of communication with the Soviet to prevent a nuclear accident and the "speedy conclusion of a completely verifiable comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty."
Manatt was preceded yesterday by W. Averill Harriman, who negotiated the limited nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviets two decades ago.