President Reagan charged yesterday that conservatives who oppose the medium-range missile treaty "have accepted that war is inevitable" between the superpowers, and he predicted there will be a summit next year in Moscow to make "another gigantic step forward in the elimination of nuclear weapons."
In an Oval Office interview with network television anchormen, Reagan sharply criticized conservatives who are voicing objections to the proposed intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, saying that they are "ignorant of the advances that have been made in verification."
"I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting any understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people basically down in their deepest thoughts have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers," he said.
"Well, I think as long as you've got a chance to strive for peace, you strive for peace," Reagan added. "But you don't have peace and surrender. And there's no way that we're going to surrender. . . . "
In contrast to his criticism of the Soviets earlier this week, including new charges of treaty violations, Reagan offered unusually conciliatory remarks about Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who arrives Monday for a summit at which the missile treaty is to be signed.
Reagan was asked whether he thinks that Gorbachev was being truthful when he said in the NBC television interview broadcast this week that the Soviets were invited into Afghanistan. "I have to believe that he believes their own propaganda," Reagan said. "He grew up with this and hearing this."
The president was then asked, "You believe that he believes that he has 115,000 troops in Afghanistan, committing genocide almost daily, simply because they were invited in there?"
"Well, you must remember that there were other leaders under which this happened," Reagan responded. "He inherited that." Reagan said the other leaders had created a "puppet government" in Afghanistan. "Whether he knows that -- to what extent they did that -- I don't know," Reagan said.
Reagan said he is "quite sure" that Gorbachev thinks that whatever Afghan government follows after a Soviet pullout would be "similar to the Eastern bloc nations." He said "our job is to make him see" that beyond a military withdrawal, the Soviets must accept that Afghans should choose their own government "and not simply accept the present stooges for the communist world."
Reagan spoke favorably of Gorbachev several times in the interview. He said the Soviet leader "sincerely believes" in Soviet philosophy "and also believes a lot of the propaganda about the western world and about our country. That it isn't just spouting off about shortcomings here in this country; he really believes them."
Reagan portrayed Gorbachev as a new kind of Soviet leader, one who has "never made" a statement Reagan said had been made by "leader after leader" before him -- that Moscow seeks "a one-world communist state." Instead, Reagan said, Gorbachev is the first Soviet leader "that has ever expressed a willingness to eliminate weapons they already have."
The president, who has often insisted that arms-control agreements be linked with Soviet behavior on such issues as human rights and regional conflicts, took a different tack. "You shouldn't link these various programs," he said when asked about whether arms-control agreements would be tied to progress on human rights. Rather, Reagan said, he will push "just as hard" for improvement on the other issues.
Also, Reagan praised George Bush as "the finest vice president in my memory in this country" but again said he will not endorse a Republican presidential candidate until a nominee is selected. While Bush has said he was left out of key meetings in the Iran-contra affair, Reagan said "he has participated in all the major operations" of the presidency. "He's a major part."
Earlier yesterday, in a 10-minute speech on human rights, Reagan said the issue "remains on a par" with arms control in the upcoming summit. He vowed that Soviet dissidents who are punished, citizens who are prohibited from emigrating and divided families "are not now, nor will they ever be, forgotten by our administration." But he went on to say that in the Soviet Union there has been a "loosening of the grip" in the last two years.
Reagan's interview with four network television anchormen came three days after NBC's broadcast of Tom Brokaw's hour-long interview with Gorbachev. The Soviet leader plans to hold a news conference before leaving Washington next week, and Reagan is to give a speech.
Asked whether he might make too many concessions to Gorbachev, Reagan said, "I haven't changed from the time when I made a speech about an evil empire." He recited again the Russian proverb "trust but verify" and said "there would be no way that I could sign a treaty, just to be signing a treaty, and with my fingers crossed that everything was all right."
The president acknowledged that the treaty eliminating medium-range and shorter-range missiles would leave the Soviets with a "tremendous advantage" in conventional forces. But he said NATO has "thousands and thousands" of battlefield nuclear weapons to balance the Soviet advantage in Europe.
He predicted a Moscow summit in 1988 to sign a pact reducing strategic, or long-range, nuclear arms, adding, "I think there is a reasonably good chance that we will make another gigantic step forward in the elimination of nuclear weapons."