President Bush is formulating an approach to U.S.-Soviet relations that balances opportunities for improved relations against doubts about the long-term motives behind Mikhail Gorbachev's dramatic reforms.
Echoing the middle-of-the-road approach recommended in a classified review, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft said Sunday he foresees no "sharp, dramatic changes in policy" to warm up to Gorbachev or to exploit the Soviet leader's domestic problems."It probably is not surprising that the future looks a lot like the present in sort of a straight-line projection," Scowcroft said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Administration officials confirmed Bush received an interagency report last week that recommended a "status quo plus" approach of no major deviations from current policy toward Moscow.
The report represented a middle course between hardliners wary of Gorbachev and others urging Bush to seize the time of reform in the Soviet Union as an opportunity for expanded economic relations and initiatives in arms control.
In London last week, Gorbachev asserted the "prolonged" foreign policy review under way in Washington had resulted in lost momentum in negotiations on reductions in strategic and conventional forces and imperiled progress in U.S.-Soviet relations.
Bush shrugged off the criticism the next day, insisting that the Soviets were well aware he would not be pressured to rush into arms negotiations or other major initiatives before a careful and thorough assessment of where U.S.-Soviet relations stand and should be headed in the Gorbachev-era atmosphere of eased tensions.
Although final decisions on U.S. policy are yet to be made, Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker, who appeared on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," used the words "prudent," "cautious" and "realistic" to describe how Bush will respond to the moderation of Soviet policy. They indicated they were mindful that Gorbachev's domestic reforms and retreat from adventurism could be either well-intentioned or a bid to prepare for a new period of competition with the United States.
"I think there's no question that he's for real," Scowcroft said of Gorbachev, "and that he's dynamic, modern - in the sense of understanding, especially communication - and dedicated to change in the Soviet Union. But what is in doubt is the character of that change and what his motivation for change is. And there is a major question mark."
Whatever the motives or impacts, Scowcroft said the changes evidenced by elections in the Soviet Union and political reconciliation in Poland show that "the West has won" the Cold War ideological struggle.
"We're no longer worried about communism sweeping Western Europe, as we were 35 years ago," he said. "It's a failed political system, as we can see by the concessions to at least some democratic procedures. It's failed as an economic system in their borrowing market economics to try to get their economic system going again."