The White House, responding to criticism from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on deepening tensions between the superpowers, said yesterday that President Reagan "is willing to meet the Soviets halfway in an effort to solve problems" at November's summit meeting.
Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes, chiding Gorbachev after his first interview with an American publication, said Reagan would like equal time, perhaps on Soviet television, to give his point of view. Speakes said the Soviets had ignored U.S. requests for Reagan to make such an appearance.
Speakes said Reagan welcomed Gorbachev's statement in an interview with Time magazine that he is prepared to submit serious proposals at the summit. But Speakes rejected Gorbachev's claim that the United States is at fault for a deteriorating relationship between Washington and Moscow.
The White House spokesman reiterated the administration's expectation that the summit will help set an "agenda for the future" but probably not produce major agreements. "The important thing is to get to this meeting, to have the two men look each other over, size each other up, lay out their views on these various topics, and then be able to set an agenda to deal with these in the future," Speakes said.
The spokesman also said the United States is prepared to talk to the Soviets about reductions in space weapons. But he reiterated that Reagan's proposed shield against nuclear missiles, known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, would not be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Soviets.
Gorbachev, in the Time interview, blamed the United States for taking a confrontational approach to the summit, citing the administration decision to test an antisatellite weapon against a target in space for the first time, and a recent speech by national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane.
Gorbachev also said he would bring "some very serious proposals" to Geneva. He complained that U.S. officials are taking a modest view of the summit prospects that falls short of Soviet expectations.
Speakes gave the U.S. response twice yesterday, once for reporters in the morning and then an expanded version for television cameras at the mid-day White House briefing.
"The president hopes the meeting in Geneva will lay the groundwork to address the issues that face our two nations," he said in a prepared statement.
"Our views of the causes of present U.S.-Soviet tensions are quite different from that presented by Mr. Gorbachev. But we do not intend to enter into a debate in the media. Preparations for the meeting in Geneva are best conducted in confidential diplomatic channels."
Speakes said the United States intends to raise issues in four broad areas with the Soviets: nuclear arms reductions, regional conflicts, bilateral issues and human rights in the Soviet Union.
Commenting on the Time interview, he said, "We are pleased that Mr. Gorbachev was able to present his views to the American public. The interview is a prime example of the openness of the American system, and the access the Soviets enjoy to the American media." Speakes said "direct access for President Reagan to the Soviet people" in a television appearance "would go far to improve understanding between our people."
Later, the White House made public a letter written last January by Charles Z. Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency, proposing an exchange of television appearances by leaders of each country.
Speakes said the Soviets had not taken up the offer.