The White House yesterday dismissed Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze's proposal for a program of international cooperation in space he called "Star Peace" as having no relationship to President Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, often called "Star Wars."
"We see no linkage between the Soviet proposal of peaceful cooperation and research into the possibility of effective strategic defenses, research which both our countries are conducting," said White House spokesman Larry Speakes.
The response to Shevardnadze was described by Reagan administration officials as part of a highly organized but low-key "public diplomacy" effort intended to suggest that the United States is serious about genuine bargaining to reduce nuclear arsenals while the Soviets are more interested in scoring public relations points.
Speakes said the United States "has long been a major exponent of peaceful cooperation in space," and said this had been a principal goal of the American space program.
However, Speakes said, "we welcome Mr. Shevardnadze's indication that the Soviets will bring new proposals to the Geneva talks." In response to a report that Shevardnadze will propose reductions of 40 percent in the strategic nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers, Reagan said in Knoxville, Tenn., on Tuesday that he wanted deeper reductions but later amended his remarks to say he wasn't making any decision until he had seen the Soviet proposal.
Reagan and Shevardnadze, who made his "Star Peace" proposal in a speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, are scheduled to meet for two hours at the White House on Friday.
Critics of the Reagan administration have often charged that the president's efforts in foreign policy have been distinguished more by public relations considerations than results. A well-informed administration official said yesterday that in the period leading up to the Geneva summit meeting between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Nov. 19-20, a key theme will be to emphasize that the United States favors "deeds, not words" on arms control.
"We're not going to be diverted from our major purposes to respond to every Soviet statement," said an administration official, who said the U.S. strategy had not been altered in any way by the Shevardnadze proposal.
Vice President Bush made a similar point, telling reporters that Moscow's "very visible propaganda campaign . . . doesn't bother us."
An interagency group co-chaired by national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane and White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan met Monday before Shevardnadze spoke to discuss the White House public diplomacy effort. One participant said the meeting reinforced previous decisions to focus on the point that the United States has made "serious" proposals in the strategic arms talks at Geneva while the Soviet Union has instead concentrated on the "propaganda" of high-visibility speeches and interviews.
"We're trying to keep the focus on the Geneva meetings on arms control and the summit," said one official. "This is a preliminary event."
McFarlane and others in the administration have attempted to lower expectations that the summit will produce a new arms control agreement but an official said yesterday that "the Russians aren't playing this game." He said the Soviets were trying to raise expectations in the United States by such proposals as the "Star Peace" plan despite lack of concrete signs that they are willing to bargain seriously.
"Naturally, they'd like to be in the position of blaming the United States if the summit isn't a success," said one official.
In discussing the Strategic Defense Initiative program, which Reagan has said he will not use as a "bargaining chip," U.S. officials are attempting to focus on Soviet objections and, in so far as possible, ignore domestic and European critics of the program.
Yesterday, for example, Speakes declined to comment on a study released Tuesday by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment which found that Reagan's vision of an effective shield against a Soviet nuclear attack "does not appear feasible."