President Bush, responding for the first time to a Soviet arms reduction initiative, said Saturday the proposed cuts by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev "would be good" and if acted on, would be matched by the United States.
In response to Gorbachev's proposal to remove 500 nuclear warheads from short-range nuclear missiles based in Europe, Bush said: "Let him do what he (Gorbachev) said, unilaterally. It would be good."Noting that the United States had itself removed more than 2,000 nuclear weapons, he added, "It would be nice to have him go ahead and make some moves. Action is what I talked about yesterday."
Bush's comments, following his own attempt Friday at foreign policy one-upmanship, were in response to the Soviet leader's surprise proposal earlier this week in talks with Secretary of State James Baker.
Bush, in his speech Friday, declared the U.S. post-World War II policy of containment toward Russia had ended but that the Soviet Union must follow words with actions if it wishes to fully join "the community of nations."
The president, who gave two commencement addresses later Saturday before traveling to Kentucky, also challenged Gorbachev on Friday to prove his policy of openness by letting spy planes fly over the Soviet Union and by tearing down the Iron Curtain separating Eastern and Western Europe.
In his speech at Alcorn State University, Bush inserted a new pledge into his prepared remarks. "As the Soviet Union moves toward greater openness and democratization," he said, "as they meet the challenge of responsible international behavior, we will match their steps with steps of our own."
Bush aides have conceded that Bush's proposal on spy planes was not flashy nor likely to best Gorbachev on the public relations front on which the Soviet leader has proven so effective.
But they said the president's call, more symbolic than substantive, urged Gorbachev to match his words of glasnost, or openness, with deeds. "We look for enduring, ingrained economic and political change," Bush said.
Gorbachev's latest offensive is aimed at Western Europe, just weeks before the NATO allies gather to celebrate their 40th anniversary.