"Incredible public relations campaigns" by Mikhail Gorbachev and Yasser Arafat are posing similar but separate threats to U.S. national defense, Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said Thursday.
He said a recent trip to Europe and the Middle East showed him that the resolve of some NATO countries - especially West Germany - to defend against Soviet threats is weakening because of Gorbachev's "nice-guy image." But Garn still describes the Soviet Union as "the evil empire."Similarly, Arafat's denouncement of terrorism - the sincerity of which Garn also questions - may be prematurely weakening world opposition to his Palestine Liberation Organization. Garn said Arafat has not yet matched his peaceful words with deeds.
Garn's comments came in a press conference Thursday to give details about his 15-day trip as part of his work on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee - a trip that was criticized by the Washington Post as a "junket" even before it began.
The Post said Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, told committee members to bring their wives and expect to visit many museums and historical sites. Garn said the trip still had a tight work schedule - and after the criticism, Inouye made it even tighter.
"We only had one day out of 15 to play at all," Garn said, referring to a visit to the tomb of King Tut. All other days were filled with briefings and official visits to Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Bahrain, Egypt and Israel.
Garn said he found the condition of NATO generally strong but was upset at weakening resolve against the Soviets by the West Germans and was also upset by Spain and Greece "taking advantage" of the United States by forcing out NATO bases and receiving "ridiculous" financial rewards for it.
He said, "What worries me is Gorbachev's impact, particularly in West Germany, to soften the resolve of politicians while the threat is still there."
He said many younger Germans who cannot remember World War II believe Gorbachev is a good man who would not attack them and therefore do not believe strong defense is needed.
But Garn said, "They still abuse human rights in the Soviet Union. Sure, the improvement is nice, but relatively speaking, it's still an evil empire. Ronald Reagan said it was an evil empire . . . it's still an evil empire in terms of our standards."
Garn said he, too, hopes Gorbachev is sincere but said NATO must be cautious and demand deeds and not just words from him.
"I have spent my whole adult life with Russian leaders trying to take over America. Then suddenly we've got a guy who's articulate, intelligent, doesn't pound his shoes on the table, doesn't yell and scream. I hope and would like to believe he is sincere . . . But I'm not ready to swallow that line yet."
Garn complained about other NATO troubles in Spain and Greece, too. He said Spain forced NATO to give up an $800 million Air Force base at Torreon, give the facilities to Spain for free and is requiring severance pay for Spanish workers who lose their jobs.
He said U.S. State Department officials who negotiated that agreement are incompetent. "Back home, they send people who negotiate those kind of deals to jail . . . They call it fraud."
Garn worries that negotiations over a similar base closure in Greece could have similar results. He said he will tell President Bush of his concerns.
In the Middle East, Garn said, the peace process is stalled - with the key hurdle being how much involvement PLO leader Arafat should have.
He said Palestinian Arabs generally insist that Arafat represent them at any peace conference. But Israelis totally refuse any involvement with him because of his terrorist past and because he is an unelected representative.
Garn said he can understand Israel's concerns. He believes Arafat could do much more than he has to stop violence in Israeli-occupied Arab areas, but has not simply for public relations purposes.
He said television pictures of Israeli force used to put down that rock throwing while Arafat denounces terrorism - and claims any that happens was beyond his control - all creates a good image for him, and is giving him access to government leaders he previously has not had.