President Reagan met yesterday with his new arms-control negotiating team and told its members that he intends to be involved personally in nuclear and space arms negotiations with the Soviet Union, administration officials said yesterday.
These officials said the United States has proposed that the three new sets of negotiations begin March 5 in Geneva. No response has been received from the Soviets, they said.
"I view the negotiating commitments we undertook two weeks ago with the Soviets in Geneva with the utmost seriousness," Reagan said in a statement issued after the White House meeting.
"I have no more important goal than reducing, and ultimately eliminating, nuclear weapons. The United States will have concrete ideas to put on the negotiating table. We hope the Soviet Union will follow a similarly constructive approach," he said.
The meeting was Reagan's first session with the team he named last week.
Members include Max M. Kampelman, who is to head the delegation and be chief negotiator on the space talks; former senator John G. Tower (R-Tex.), who is to lead negotiations on strategic nuclear arms, and career diplomat Maynard W. (Mike) Glitman, who is to be chief negotiator on medium-range nuclear forces in Europe.
Reagan, at a photo-taking session where he directed seating arrangements, called these advisers "a great team" and said they were "Super Bowl caliber."
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the meeting was an opportunity for Reagan to give the team its "marching orders." The session was attended by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane, veteran arms negotiators Paul Nitze and Edward L. Rowny, and Kenneth L. Adelman, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Reagan, Shultz and McFarlane spoke at the meeting, and one official close to the proceedings said "the emphasis inside the room was for the negotiators to get prepared personally" on issues long the subject of intense discussion at the staff level.
McFarlane, who is to serve as a coordinator and preside over meetings involving various U.S. agencies, stressed the importance of consultation with Congress in the interest of obtaining a unified approach to the negotiations. Reagan's statement after the meeting also emphasized this goal.
During his first term, and especially in last year's election campaign, Reagan was criticized for his supposed disengagement from two sets of Geneva arms-control negotiations that ended with Soviet walkouts. White House officials are sensitive to these criticisms and have repeatedly stressed that Reagan will be heavily involved in the new negotiations.
Reagan made this point in talking to the negotiators, according to administration officials. "He's not going to be immersed in detail, but he's going to keep his oar in and make the decisions," an official said. "He's found out that works."
The official was referring to Reagan's involvement in the meetings that preceded Shultz's talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko in Geneva this month, sessions that led to the agreement for new negotiations.