President Reagan, seeking to reassure his conservative critics, said yesterday that he would press the issues of "Soviet human rights violations and military intervention" in regional conflicts when he meets with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Iceland this weekend.
"It would be simply unthinkable for world leaders to meet in splendid isolation even as the people of Afghanistan, Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia undergo terrible sufferings as a result of Soviet invasion or military intervention," Reagan told an audience of supporters at the White House.
Reagan will send a similar message to the Soviets this afternoon when he meets with Yuri Orlov, the Soviet human rights activist released from Siberian exile this week in the swap that also gave freedom to American journalist Nicholas Daniloff and accused Soviet spy Gennadi Zakharov. In his speech yesterday Reagan said that Orlov's "sufferings make him a hero for our time" and said he was "persecuted simply because he led an effort to get the Soviet government to live up to the human rights agreements it signed at Helsinki in 1975.
"When the Soviet state's ideology makes it a crime to advocate living up to international commitments, the rest of the world has to take notice," Reagan said.
The president sought also to play down expectations that he and Gorbachev would reach an arms control agreement at the Reykjavik meeting, which he said was "not intended to be a signing ceremony or media event" but a planning session for a full-dress summit in the United States.
"Iceland is a base camp before the summit," Reagan said.
Most of the speech was aimed at allaying concern among some conservatives that Reagan is too eager to reach an arms agreement and that holding a snap meeting with Gorbachev during a midterm election campaign is ill-advised.
Reagan said he found "suggestions that I'm getting soft on communism" a new and "titillating" experience. This remark drew laughter from the audience, but Reagan followed it with a serious appeal to conservatives to rally behind him.
"I would ask those of my old supporters who may have voiced doubts to simply consider three facts that I think may make the current summit process very different from that of previous decades," Reagan said. "First, the United States has made it plain that we enter these negotiations without illusions and that we will continue to be candid about the Soviet Union, the moral implications of its ideology [and] the grave danger of its geopolitical intentions."
The second "fact" cited by Reagan was the administration's commitment to world freedom. The third was his contention that the United States will enter the meeting from a position of strength because "our economic and military power is resurgent, the Western democracies are revitalized, and all across the world, nations are turning to democratic ideas and the principles of the free market."
As evidence that the Iceland meeting will involve realistic discussions of issues other than arms control, Reagan cited the comment of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze that the two leaders should discuss Afghanistan.
"I wish we saw any evidence that the Soviets had made a decision to get out," Reagan said. "They need to see that the only solution that can last is one providing self-determination to the Afghan people and a rapid, complete withdrawal of Soviet forces."
Reagan also defended his conduct in obtaining the release of Daniloff and said his arrest on "trumped-up charges" was an act that "held hostage not only an American journalist, but the future of Soviet-American relations."
The president said Daniloff was picked up in retaliation for the arrest of Zakharov, a Soviet U.N. employe, on espionage charges, and that the United States took action "by ordering the expulsion of 25 Soviet personnel known to be involved in such activities." Previously, Reagan and other officials claimed that the release of Daniloff, the return of Zakharov to the Soviet Union a day later and the expulsion order of the Soviet "spies" at the United Nations were unrelated events.