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ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. These are today's top headlines. The Soviet Union has a new leader. Ailing President Konstantin Chernenko died and was swiftly replaced by his youngest lieutenant, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev said he wanted detente with the United States. The nuclear arms talks in Geneva will open tomorrow as scheduled. In Lebanon, Israel killed 34 suspected guerrillas. Jim Lehrer is away tonight. Judy Woodruff is in Washington. Judy?
JUDY WOODRUFF: We devote almost our entire NewsHour this evening to the change of leadership in Moscow. After the news summary our first focus section is the discussion with an American farmer and a Soviet defector, both of whom have met the new Soviet leader and have had a chance to size him up. They are joined by a Soviet expert who will weigh the effect the transition could have on arms control. Then we bring in Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for an extended interview, for first-hand comments on all of the above and on his ongoing budget battles with the Congress.News Summary
MacNEIL: The Soviet Union announced today that President Konstantin Chernenko died yesterday at 73 from emphysema and heart failure. Five hours later today his successor was announced, Mikhail Gorbachev, at 54 the youngest member of the ruling Politburo, whose choice brings a new generation to power. In a speech, Gorbachev said, "We're not looking for superiority over the United States." Chernenko will be buried in a Red Square funeral on Wednesday. He died after only 13 months in power. On Soviet television a newsreader reported Chernenko's death at six o'clock this morning, Eastern Standard Time, about 18 hours after he'd died. The cause of death in detail was given as emphysema, which is a disease of the lungs, complicated by heart and liver ailments. It was the third time in 27 months that the same newsreader had reported the death of a president. Leonid Brezhnev died in December, 1982; Yuri Andropov died in February, 1984. Chernenko's body today was taken to lie in state at the House of Unions in Moscow. Senior officials of the government and the Communist Party filed past the coffin and offered their condolences to members of the Chernenko family. The Politburo moved with unusual speed to fill the vacancy and to announce that Gorbachev had been named general secretary of the Communist Party. Presumably he will be elected president of the Soviet Union at the next meeting of the Supreme Soviet, which is the country's parliament.
Gorbachev was little known in the West until he visited Britain last December. The British found him intelligent, charming, businesslike, open to give-and-take in conversation, but not a reformer likely to change the nature of Soviet society. He was trained as a lawyer, and he has held the portfolio of agriculture in the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. On his visit to Britain he emphasized that the Soviet Union is ready to eliminate nuclear weapons and urged that no nation should introduce weapons into outer space. Today, in a speech accepting the post of party secretary, Gorbachev said there would be no change in the policies pursued by his two most recent predecessors, Brezhnev and Andropov. In our first focus section right after this news summary we look at the meaning of the Chernenko-Gorbachev succession. Judy?
WOODRUFF: President Reagan was awakened at four o'clock this morning and told of the reports of Chernenko's death. As the morning wore on there was speculation Mr. Reagan might decide to go to Moscow himself to attend the funeral, but at a session with out-of-town newspeople the President explained why he decided to send Vice President Bush instead.
Pres. RONALD REAGAN: First of all, there's an awful lot on my -- on my plate right now that would have to be set aside. I didn't see that anything could be achieved by so going, and we discussed it in the office this morning, but, no, I lean the other way, that we have heads of state coming here, I have -- the end of the week I'll be leaving for Canada for a meeting that's been set up for a long time there -- things of that kind -- and I just -- I didn't see where I could do it. And the Vice President is already in Europe, so that it would seem very logical for him to do that.
WOODRUFF: The President, who has never met with any of his Soviet counterparts, was then asked by a reporter whether he looked forward to meeting the new Soviet leader.
Pres. REAGAN: Very much so. And I was with the previous three also. I was ready to have a meeting, and as they themselves said, at such a time as it could have a legitimate agenda and not just have a meeting to get acquainted. But I'm looking forward to this, and you know, you have to wait for a new man now to get in place and establish his regime, and then I'll be more than ready.
WOODRUFF: Administration officials said the President sent a message of condolence to the Soviet leadership saying, "We must seize the opportunities for peace. We need to find ways to reduce the threat and use of force in solving international disputes." And at the State Department, a statement was issued saying, "Progress is possible in many areas in superpower relations."
MacNEIL: In Geneva both the United States and the Soviet Union decided not to let events in Moscow delay the opening of the nuclear arms talks tomorrow. Deputies to the heads of the two delegations met and agreed to hold an opening session tomorrow morning to set the schedule of talks for the next few weeks. The chief U.S. delegate, Max Kampelman, and the rest of his team were in Brussels today, briefing officials of the NATO governments on U.S. positions in the much-heralded talks. A group of eight U.S. congressmen arrived in Geneva today to join 10 senators who are there to observe the start of the talks. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said in a Washington speech today he did not think Chernenko's death would affect the talks.
CASPAR WEINBERGER, Secretary of Defense: We can all guess, and that's all we can do, because that's a very closed society, but my guess is that it will not affect the negotiations. My guess is that the Soviet negotiators have been given their instructions as a result of a collective set of decisions. I think for a long time now, certainly during the past year or two, the Soviets have been even more of a collective government than in the past, and I think the death of the general secretary has been long expected and anticipated and planned for, and my guess would be that it would not interrupt or affect the negotiations, really, in any way.
MacNEIL: Later in this program we have an extended live interview with Secretary Weinberger.
WOODRUFF: Israeli troops killed 34 Shiite Moslem guerrillas and arrested 100 people in southern Lebanon today. The action followed a car bomb attack yesterday that killed 12 Israeli soldiers. Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres told the soldiers wounded Sunday that Israel would not let the attack go unpunished. And in Beirut an anonymous telephone caller warned that more suicide attacks would be launched against Israeli troops in Lebanon.
There was more blood shed in the war between Iran and Iraq today. Both governments launched new air strikes against major population centers, leaving at least 100 people dead and more than 500 wounded. Iranian jet fighters rocketed three residential areas in Baghdad while Iraqi warplanes bombed Iran's city of Bakhtaran. The continued fighting comes despite urgent appeals from the United Nations over the weekend to stop strikes against purely civilian targets. Soviet Succession
MacNEIL: For our lead focus section tonight we examine the new leader in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev, the fourth man to preside over the Kremlin since President Reagan came to office in 1981. The elevation of the 54-year-old Gorbachev marks a generational shift in the Soviet leadership. He follows Leonid Brezhnev, who died in 1982 when he was 76; Yuri Andropov, who was 69 when he died in 1984; and now Konstantin Chernenko, who was 73 when he died yesterday. Gorbachev is younger than his predecessors, but he's a product of the same collective leadership. In his acceptance speech today he pledged to continue the policies of Chernenko, Brezhnev and Andropov. Here are two reports on what kind of a leader Chernenko was and what kind Gorbachev might be.
TIM SEBASTIAN, BBC [voice-over]: Chernenko was no reformer, and by electing him in February, '84, the Soviet Union put its development on hold. The young politicians weren't ready for power; the old man from Siberia could manage until they were. Chernenko played it by the book. He was, after all, a man with impeccable Communist credentials. He'd been through party schools and specialized political agitation. He'd been a Brezhnev man, the natural number two. His strong point was political orthodoxy, not grand designs for the future. Chernenko will not be remembered for his influence, he minded the Soviet shop and surprised neither East nor West. But his departure may have paved the way for some radical surprises in Soviet politics, and the old, gray, predictable style of Kremlin leadership may have died with him.
JEREMY PAXMAN, BBC [voice-over]: If nothing else, Mikhail Gorbachev will bring a change of style to the Kremlin. He's brisk and businesslike with a touch of panache. His career has coincided with an expansion of Soviet power undreamed of even by the czars. It's said to have given him a great sense of confidence. The question is, what sort of change will he represent? Two traumas have overshadowed the political life of his predecessors, the first of them World War II. That took the lives of 20 million Soviet citizens. Gorbachev was only a boy at the time. The other trauma, Josef Stalin. The Soviet leadership has been dominated by men who forged their careers in the dark days of the Stalin tyranny, days when Mr. Gorbachev was just a teenager and a student. Last year a sign he was being groomed for the presidency, Gorbachev was sent on a visit to Britain. It was an unusual affair. The man who arrived was good-humored, informal and with a taste for well-cut suits. His wife, Raisa, showed not every Soviet woman was a 23-stone babushka. Gorbachev seemed a new kind of Russian. Mrs. Thatcher's verdict?
MARGARET THATCHER, Prime Minister of Britain [December, 1984]: We both believe in our own political systems. He firmly believes in his; I firmly believe in mine. We're never going to change one another.
MacNEIL: We talk about the new Soviet leader now with two men, an American and a Soviet who have met and worked with Mikhail Gorbachev. The American is John Chrystal, president of Bankers Trust Bank of Des Moines, Iowa. Mr. Chrystal's uncle received former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at his Iowa farm in 1959. Since then John Chrystal has made a number of trips to the Soviet Union. He met Gorbachev first in 1981 and then again in '83, when Gorbachev had responsibility for Soviet agricultural production. He joins us now from Des Moines, at the studios of Iowa Public Television. Former Soviet diplomat Arkady Shevchenko also has met Gorbachev. Shevchenko is the highest Soviet official ever to defect to the West, leaving his United Nations post in 1978. He is the author of the recently published book, Breaking With Moscow., Mr. Chrystal in Des Moines, as I say, you've met and talked with Gorbachev for quite long periods. What kind of a man did you make him out to be?
JOHN CHRYSTAL: He was civil, intelligent, perfectly capable of measuring the faults of the agricultural economy of the Soviet Union, and I think a man who thought that a good economy was good politics.
MacNEIL: Margaret Thatcher also said, besides what we just heard, that he was a man she thought she could deal with. Is he the kind of man you could deal with?
Mr. CHRYSTAL: Yes, I think so. I felt comfortable with him, and while I've only spent four or five hours with him, the conversations were one on one, and I think, had I known him longer, I might have liked him.
MacNEIL: Your four or five hours are a lot longer than 98% of everybody else in the world has spent with him, I think. And you say you might have liked him more. What did you mean by that -- if you had spent longer?
Mr. CHRYSTAL: Well, I think you need to be with a person longer than that to think that you could be a friend, and it would be presumptuous of me to think that he thought more of me than that.
MacNEIL: All right. Let's move to Mr. Shevchenko. How different is Gorbachev from his predecessors?
Mr. CHRYSTAL: I didn't know -- pardon me.
MacNEIL: I'll come back to you in a moment, Mr. Chrystal. Let's move to Washington and Mr. Shevchenko. How different is Gorbachev from his predecessors?
ARKADY SHEVCHENKO: Oh, first of all, he is a younger man. He has, everybody knows, would have another style. Better educated and he -- what I would say, first of all, he has more fresh knowledge of what is going on in the Soviet Union because the old leaders, they for decades never had a first-hand experience in dealing with the problems. And Gorbachev is relatively fresh. And as a first secretary of the Stavrapol Krai, or region, he met with ordinary people as a first secretary. He knew directly the problems and the -- I think that as far as the economy is concerned, as far as the necessity to do something in the Soviet Union as for economic problem and social problem in the Soviet Union, we can expect from him something. But let me caution you that the -- you just mentioned that it's a generational shift in the Soviet leadership. Let's wait. In a sense it's true. In a sense only. Because still the majority of the Politburo, the people to whom Gorbachev has to listen and not only listen but who can make decisions at the very top of the Politburo and, moreover, in the party apparatus of the Soviet Union, in the regions, also the people are rather old. So that the -- he is only one who made now the move and become a new leader of the Soviet Union, a leader which perhaps will have a fresh look at the Soviet reality as far as the economy is concerned, but who definitely will not change anything as far as the foreign policy of the Soviet, even in the nearest future, and moreover he will need a lot of time to do something, even something very serious in the Soviet Union. He needs to consolidate his power. Still the majority, as I mentioned, belong to the old generation. And what the sharing of power will be, it remains to be seen what will happen, I mean, how arrangements will be.
MacNEIL: Yes. Let me go back to Mr. Chrystal. You've met other Soviet leaders and many other Soviet personnel. Is Mr. Gorbachev less ideological? Is he more pragmatic, do you think?
Mr. CHRYSTAL: I think that he is a d'dicated Communist. I also think he is pragmatic. But I think that old people can have young minds and young people can have old minds. I think he's a young mind in a young body.
MacNEIL: Would you look for any changes?
Mr. CHRYSTAL: I would look for changes domestically. I think that the general public in the Soviet Union wants an economy with a clear direction and a more effective economy. I think he recognizes that desire, and I would expect him to use -- to consolidate his position and to move popularly into a more efficient economy than they have had.
MacNEIL: Mr. Shevchenko, just translating this into the terms of the average American tonight, the Soviet Union has been the bugbear of this country for all through the cold war. Is this change something that Americans should feel hopeful about or not hopeful or have no particular emotion about?
Mr. SHEVCHENKO: I don't think that we should expect any drastic changes in the Soviet foreign policy. It would be more or less the same situation. But in my view the present Soviet leadership, not only Gorbachev but both old and the new, the more younger Soviet leaders, they need now above all, I would say, if not a confrontation with the West but a peaceful international environment to concentrate on domestic problems of the Soviet Union. And as far as Gorbachev is concerned, I would like also to say that he is a party apparatchik. Don't forget that. You talk about that he is a lawyer, he has education and and did one thing or another. He spent all his life as a party apparatchik, devoted party apparatchik, which means that he's very much ideologically oriented. It doesn't mean that he would not have a fresh look at the problems of the Soviet economy, and I agree that most likely he will try to do something and might do something domestically.
MacNEIL: Thank you. Judy?
WOODRUFF: As we said earlier, President Reagan decided not to travel to Moscow for the Chernenko funeral. The official U.S. delegation will be led by Vice President Bush and Secretary of State Shultz. The President did talk about the impact the new Soviet leader will have on arms control and U.S.-Soviet relations. Mr. Reagan said efforts to reach agreements with the Soviets will continue.
Pres. REAGAN: I want them to know that we will deal with Chairman Chernenko's successor with an open mind and we'll continue our efforts to improve relations between our two nations, to settle our differences fairly, and particularly to lower the levels of nuclear arms. Tomorrow in Geneva American negotiators will sit down with their Soviet counterparts to begin the most important arms talks in which our nation is likely to participate for the rest of this decade. I'm pleased that the negotiations will begin as scheduled. Weeks of painstaking preparation have now been completed and, although in the interest of confidentiality I can't go into the details of our negotiating positions, let me assure you of this. Our team stands ready to put forward concrete and constructive proposals, and they will in turn respond to good-faith Soviet proposals with flexibility and an active interest. We earnestly hope that the Soviets are equally prepared for serious give-and-take. Our short-term goal at Geneva will be to reduce American and Soviet offensive nuclear forces, systems which are already in place, whose use would prove a calamity to tens of millions of people. Our goal for the medium term, if research goes as we expect, is to discuss how the United States and the Soviet Union can move away from sole reliance on the threat of nuclear retaliation toward greater reliance on defenses which threaten no one. Our long-term goal, the complete elimination of nuclear arms.
WOODRUFF: We take a look now at the potential Gorbachev impact on U.S.-Soviet relations, particularly the arms control talks that start tomorrow in Geneva, with Arnold Horelick, former CIA national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He is now the director of the Rand UCLA Center for the Study of Soviet Behavior and director of Soviet-East European studies for the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California. He joins us tonight from Los Angeles.
Mr. Horelick, what effect do you think Mr. Gorbachev's coming in, Mr. Chernenko's death will have on these arms talks, if any?
ARNOLD HORELICK: Well, in the short run, as Secretary Weinberger's bit earlier in the show suggested, it's not likely that the Soviet going-in position at Geneva is going to be affected one way or another, in part because those positions have been worked out over the last few months without the active participation of Chernenko. So taking him out of the picture shouldn't really make any difference. Secondly, and even more importantly, the logic of the Soviet position at Geneva argues for their doing precisely what it is clear now they will be doing, beginning tomorrow, and any Soviet government, I think, would do that, namely, to try to soften up, to erode, at a minimum to test the firmness of the U.S. position, particularly with respect to strategic defensive weaponry, and if they fail to move that position or to soften it, to seize the high ground diplomatically and propagandistically in a struggle for Western public opinion, which I think will be a natural outgrowth of this first round at Geneva.
WOODRUFF: But you're saying they'd be doing that anyway, regardless of who the man at the top is, right?
Mr. HORELICK: Yes, but I do think there may be one difference. I think for the first time in almost a decade, the Soviet Union will be represented at the highest level in the world diplomatically and politically by a more vigorous, a more dynamic and, from the point of view of Western audiences, also a more attractive Soviet leader. So I suspect that Gorbachev will be in a position to press the Soviet case, particularly with Western public opinion, far more effectively than any Soviet leaders have been able to do for the last half-decade or decade or so.
WOODRUFF: Well, now, all those characteristics you just named really add up to little more than style, don't they? Are you saying that's going to have an impact on policy?
Mr. HORELICK: Well, I don't think we should underestimate the importance of style and form. Compared to the aging, moribund almost, in some cases, Soviet leaders that the world has been facing and presented with over the last few years, a vital, living, breathing, healthy, relatively young Soviet leader would be a large improvement in any case. But Gorbachev demonstrated in his trip to the United Kingdom a few months ago that in some respects he's just what the doctor ordered for the Soviets at this particular time. Whether this over time translates itself also into a change in policy remains to be seen. I think in domestic affairs the question of change is, I think, higher on the agenda and is more likely to attract his energies and attention than foreign affairs. On the whole, it seems to me, the international relations of the Soviet Union have been less contentious inside the country, including in the leadership, than the question of where to go on domestic affairs.
WOODRUFF: Arkady Shevchenko's still here with us. Let me bring you back into this. Do you agree pretty much with what Mr. Horelick is saying?
Mr. SHEVCHENKO: In some points I agree. In some I disagree. The one thing which we have to bear in mind, first of all, that Gromyko will remain now the major force in the Soviet leadership who would really be beneath the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. And Gorbachev, and I agree with what Mr. Horelick said, that Gorbachev most likely would be more interested in domestic affairs of the Soviet Union. But it is Gromyko now who really, with the absence of a strong military leader, after the death of Ustinov and after the dismissal of Ogarkov, actually Gromyko now, combined in itself a force which represent the -- as far as the shaping of the Soviet arms control policy and be much more strong than even Gorbachev. Gorbachev will not try even to very much to disagree with Gromyko.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Horelick, you get what he's saying, that it's going to be awhile before Mr. Gorbachev can consolidate his position. Do you agree with that?
Mr. HORELICK: Well, no, I think that's true. I was simply saying that by virtue of his greater youth and vitality he will emerge very quickly as the outstanding authoritative spokesman for the Soviet Union on foreign policy. It may be a foreign policy put together by a collective leadership in which Gromyko's undoubtedly will be the most authoritative voice. But I think the Soviets are in a position to press their case, to prosecute the offensive which I think they will be waging at Geneva and after Geneva much more effectively with Gorbachev. I think the administration will have a tougher time dealing with the Soviet Union diplomatically now than it has had over the last four years.
WOODRUFF: Why do you say that, specifically why?
Mr. HORELICK: Well, because the number-one man, really, since 1979, 1980, has only been intermittently available. He has not been available -- Brezhnev, in his declining years, Andropov for a good part of his tenure, Chernenko for most of his -- they have not been available to deal one-on-one with foreign leaders, especially West European leaders. They have not been able to make the case for the Soviet Union dramatically with Western audiences the way I believe Gorbachev will do.
WOODRUFF: Well, thank you, Arnold Horelick, for being with us. I know it's a subject we'll be coming back to. Arkady Shevchenko, both of you, for being with us this evening. Robin?
MacNEIL: Still to come on tonight's NewsHour, a live interview with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on the changes in the Kremlin, the prospects for arms control and the battles over his defense budget.
This is pledge week on PBS, and we're taking a short break now so that your public television station can ask for your support. Your pledges help to keep programs like the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour on the air. We'll be back shortly with the Weinberger interview.
[pledge week break] Pentagon View: Caspar Weinberger Interview
MacNEIL: Next tonight, an extended newsmaker interview with the secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, the administration point man, of course, in one of the biggest political battles in Washington this year, the size of the defense budget. Mr. Secretary, welcome.
Sec. WEINBERGER: Thank you.
MacNEIL: Let's talk first about the changes in Moscow today. Your experts, your Soviet analysts must have been thinking about this for months and working out various scenarios. What did you all say to each other when you learned this morning, "Oh, it's Gorbachev. It's not Romanov or one of the others, it's Gorbachev"?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Well, I think the basic feeling was that at this point you're not going to see a great deal of difference no matter where the choice might have fallen. It is a collective government, a collective leadership, and one member of that collective died and another member of that collective was substituted for him. I think the policies, the instructions to the negotiators in Geneva had all been pretty carefully worked out, and I think that, as has been said frequently today, that in the immediate future we don't think that there is very much in the way of change that will occur as a result of this change of leadership.
MacNEIL: What about in the longer term?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Well, again, that's obviously going to be a matter of speculation. We have to bear in mind that none of us know very much about what does go on inside the Soviet Union. It is a totally closed society. We all can guess, and a lot of people guess and some people do it in a somewhat more authoritative tone of voice than others, but I would suspect that it will remain a collective leadership. I think the point was very well made earlier tonight that Mr. Gromyko will continue to have very substantial influence in foreign policy. The economy of the Soviet Union domestically needs a lot of repair work, and I would suspect that there would be a lot of attention given to that. I think there's no question that the new general secretary, who presumably will be given the other posts of head of state and head of the security apparatus, will be more vigorous. Maybe this will mean the other members of the collective leadership will be somewhat less vigorous, but I think it's awfully early to try to guess about that now. The one thing that is of overriding importance, I think, is that this is now a recognition of a new generation of leadership. And I think we have to watch that very, very carefully because we had a pretty good idea that the older generation, now superceded to some extent, was basically quite conservative militarily. This is a sort of a paradox that the Soviets should be conservative. But they were conservative militarily in that they wanted overwhelming force before they moved in on any particular line of attack or aggressive strike or so on. I would think that it is probable that that same basic doctrine would continue. It is possible that with a younger man, even though he may be part of a collective, there may be some change. I think it's just a little early to say.
MacNEIL: Margaret Thatcher, who's much admired in your administration, said after his big visit to London that Gorbachev was a man you could deal with or do business with. Presumably she's said that to the Reagan administration too. What is the administration reading on that?
Sec. WEINBERGER: I suppose that most people are people there, that most people are people there you could do business with in the sense that you can talk with them and present your views and get the responses, as happened in the Oval Office meeting the President had withMr. Shcherbitsky earlier this year. But I think we have to bear in mind that you don't achieve that kind of position in the Soviet Union -- Mr. Andropov did not and Mr. Chernenko did not; I don't think Mr. Gorbachev has -- without giving very complete satisfaction in the previous positions that you held. In other words, without adhering totally and completely to the Soviet line. So I think any suggestion that we're getting some new thinking or some, oh, some -- the descriptions that were applied to Mr. Andropov, that he was really a closet Western liberal and that he liked Scotch whiskey and American novels, I don't think there was much to that. And I would be surprised if there's much to any suggestion about the present leader. I think he's very much in the mold. He's younger, more vigorous, but he hasn't achieved the position he has by anything other than total and complete adherence to the Soviet line.
MacNEIL: What about the suggestion that was just made by Arnold Horelick on the program that he might be tougher for you to deal with because, being young and vigorous and attractive in a Western sense, he could be far more plausible in selling the Soviet line in the peace offensive Mr. Horelick expected to come up now, especially with Western European public opinion?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Well, I think that's quite possible. I think he will make every effort. And the Soviets have in the last two or three weeks been making every effort to wean European opinion away from what they perceive as an American position, and they will certainly not stop that. They will make every effort to try to gain the high ground in the court of world public opinion. And for a time he may be viewed as somewhat more plausible and therefore possibly more difficult to counter. But again I think that we have to bear in mind that a lot oif this was said about Mr. Andropov at the time he took over, and what was forgotten was that you don't stay in his situation, for example 16 years as the head of the KGB, without giving complete satisfaction, which he had given in the Soviet Union. And Mr. Gorbachev has held a number of positions and has basically, as far as any of us know, precisely the same viewpoint with respect to Soviet policies as his predecessors and his compeers on the Politburo have now.
MacNEIL: The Geneva talks open tomorrow. A lot of commentators have been saying that with the two positions of the Soviets and the United States on the so-called Star Wars question, or the strategic defense initiative, rather firm, that there isn't any real hope of big agreement if both sides maintain those positions. How hopeful are you that something really can come out of it?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Oh, I'm hopeful. For one thing, I'm a California optimist, and I do think that the Soviets are back at the table because they've concluded it's in their best interest to come back after they said flatly they wouldn't under certain circumstances. I think that it is perfectly possible that we could get the kind of agreement the President wants, the kind of agreement that America and the West needs, and that's a verifiable agreement that provides for very steep and deep and real reductions in strategic and intermediate-range nuclear weapons. The strategic defense initiative -- I think there's been general agreement that the research program that's involved in that cannot and should not be stopped.
MacNEIL: What if the --
Sec. WEINBERGER: So I wouldn't think that that should be in any sense a block to reaching agreement on the other subjects, unless the Soviets want to try to get some kind of an excuse for blaming the United States rather than reaching an agreement.
MacNEIL: But wouldn't --
Sec. WEINBERGER: And I very much hope they wouldn't do that.
MacNEIL: Wouldn't they put this country in a real dilemma in the court of Western European public opinion if they were to continue saying, as they have up 'til now in the sort of opening scrambling for the talks, "Yes, we can agree with you on these significant reductions that you want and we want too, but only if you wipe out the Star Wars thing"?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Yeah, well, the President would not do that. The President has made it --
MacNEIL: And they would forego and he would therefore forego the opportunity for a significant reduction in the strategic weapons --
Sec. WEINBERGER: No, the better way to put that, I think, would be that he wouldn't fall into that trap. What he has said many times is that he regards this as one of his highest priorities. He's also said, without any contradiction, that you can't restrain or restrict a research program. The Soviets, after all, have been doing research in this field for about 12 years, and the research program that we have on the books will continue as long as it's financed by the Congress, which I very much hope it will be. It offers more hope to the world than any other concept, I think, that we've worked on or dealt with, certainly since we've been here. But it may be, as you suggest, that initially the Soviets will try to put the onus on us by insisting that we give up a research program, a research program of the kind they've been conducting, and still will conduct. So I would just very much hope that wouldn't be the case.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Judy?
WOODRUFF: Mr. Secretary, a number of Democrats in the Congress are talking about linking their support of the MX mobile missile for some kind of program progress rather in arms control talks. Is that a realistic idea?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Well, the MX is not a mobile missile. It is a very fixed missile and a very large one. But there has been some talk that the Democrats have said that they want to see progress in the arms negotiations. I hope they have in mind how difficult progress is. We took three years -- three years and a half to get SALT I, and it took seven years to get SALT II. Neither of them were very good. They didn't provide for any real reductions. So I don't think we should expect that we should measure progress in the matter of weeks or months. And yet we need the MX and we need it now, the Peacekeeper missile, because we have gone now some 12 years of debate on this subject while the Soviets have deployed two new generations of missiles and six times the number of heavy missiles of the kind we asked for in the MX program.
WOODRUFF: Well, what if that becomes a condition for many of the members?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Well, it would be, I think, a very wrong condition. It would mean that the Soviets would be told by those members, if there are any, that we in effect are giving up the thing the Soviets most want us to give up, that is, modernization of our strategic system, without any compensation, without any concession from them. There'd be no need whatever or reason whatever for them to participate in the discussions, because they would have won what they want immediately.
WOODRUFF: Are you saying that there's no circumstance under which the United States could conceive of foregoing the MX in return for something on the part of --
Sec. WEINBERGER: Well, in return for what? That's the critical point. I haven't seen any slight suggestion that the Soviets would give up their new, heavy, highly accurate missiles, which they had deployed a number of years ago. That would be very desirable if they would, and I wouldn't try to prejudge the negotiations. But bear in mind, some people are talking about how the MXs will be retaliated against by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union retaliated against the MX seven, nine years ago. And we have been debating the thing 12 years, and it isn't in yet.
WOODRUFF: What do you think the Congress will do? Do you think they'll give you the funding for the 21 that the administration is asking for?
Sec. WEINBERGER: I hope so. I never try to predict what the Congress will do. I'm very bad at prophecies. But the Congress did vote 21, and we are building those and testing them, and the tests are remarkably favorable. They're -- it's a very accurate missile, far ahead of design specifications, below budget and on time. The second 21 they voted last year, but they said we can't spend the money for them until they have these separate votes, and that's of course what we very much hope that those votes will come out favorably.
WOODRUFF: Now, if they were to come out favorably, does the administration come back then, what, later this year or early next year and ask for 48 more?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Forty-two more. The 21 that the Congress will be voting on this year were voted and appropriated and approved in -- last year, in the 1985 budget. But Congress put a fence around them. And, incidentally, I think we ought to think pretty carefully about, has there been any suggestion ever that the Soviets Politburo, whatever, put a fence around any expenditure and tell the Soviet Ministry of Defense they couldn't spend the money? They certainly haven't over the last 22 years -- and that's the vote that'll be coming up. Then later this year, as part of our regular 1986 budget, we would seek 42 more, and this would get us very close to the completion of the program. Bear in mind, too, we have sunk about $12 billion into this program over the years while it's been debated and discussed.
WOODRUFF: Are you saying you wish we didn't have a Congress to --
Sec. WEINBERGER: No, no. That's --
WOODRUFF: You wish we had a different system?
Sec. WEINBERGER: No, I don't. I just hope that we will be persuasive, which is the way we have to do it. But I'm also pointing up the difference between the systems, which means that we should recognize how that system lends itself to getting immense military strength and how it makes it incumbent on us to have in mind that difference between the systems. And we have to keep a deterrent capability, not a superiority, a deterrent capability.
WOODRUFF: Why do you think you've had such a tough time selling your budget on the Hill this year?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Well, very simple. Basically, military expenditures are unpopular in free, open, democratic societies. We'd much rather spend our money on other things. I would, too. But it is easy politically to oppose defense budgets. There're always a certain number of people who oppose them. We've had very good luck in the last four years. We are regaining a considerable degree of military strength. But bear in mind that we went down 20 , minus 20 in defense spending during the whole decade of the '70s. And it takes a long time to make up for that, particularly when you face an opponent who has never gone down but only gone up.
WOODRUFF: Well, what do you say to those who say that, yes, that's true and we have come back and we've spent almost a trillion dollars over four years, but while there's been some improvement, it's been scattered? It's been, yes, it's been in personnel, but in terms of hardware, in terms of mobility --
Sec. WEINBERGER: If that were true, those people should be willing and anxious to spend much more than we've asked because this is not a budget game. This is not a contest of which percentage points you pick. It's a contest as to whether we keep our freedom and our peace. It's just that simple. And we are asking for sums that are considerably lower than we had originally been authorized. We're $2 billion below the amount the Congress said we should spend four months ago.
WOODRUFF: But I mean, if someone were to come back and say, "But wait a minute. Are you saying we haven't gotten our money's worth, that we should have gotten much more for what we've spent."
Sec. WEINBERGER: Oh, no. We've gotten our money's worth and then some. We have greatly strengthened the defenses of the United States. We've vastly improved our position. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who has been in the Army now 44 years, has said that never in his whole career has he seen morale higher or the troops better equipped or better prepared. But when you go down 20 during a whole decade, when your opponent is going up, it takes a long time and it's a very expensive and, as I can tell you, a very unpopular task to regain that strength.
WOODRUFF: What if the Senate Budget Committee plan to increase defense spending at an inflation-only rate were to be voted in next year? What would that mean?
Sec. WEINBERGER: It would mean a very substantial reduction in our ability to keep on regaining the strength that we need. It would also mean, because nobody's challenging the various systems, they're all just saying, "Oh, it's too much money." It would mean that we would have to get those things in later years at higher cost and that, instead of the savings the Budget Committee is talking about, it would cost billions more to keep our security. They -- bear in mind that nobody really is talking about canceling this or canceling that. There are some people who are against the MX, have been for 12 years. But most people are simply saying, "You're spending too much." Not enough people say that -- very few people say the threat's being exaggerated. What they just say is, "We just don't want to spend this on defense."
WOODRUFF: But don't you find that somewhat strange just a few months after the President is elected in a landslide victory that you can't get a program that's so near and dear to the President's heart through his own Congress and the Republicans, members of his own party, are leading the opposition?
Sec. WEINBERGER: Well, our system is that everybody in the Senate and in the House is perfectly free to have their own agenda. And if this is their assessment of what their constituents want, obviously that's their conclusion. We're very hopeful that at the end of the day when the budget is finally voted, that it will have at least enough so that we won't have to make everything we need much more costly and so that we will have the amounts we need to regain our defensive deterrent strength. But there are a lot of people -- bear in mind there've been a lot of people who opposed the spending that the President wanted before he was re-elected.
WOODRUFF: You cracked down on General Dynamics last week, problems with bad billing. How widespread is that kind of erroneous, fraudulent billing on the part of defense contractors?
Sec. WEINBERGER: I don't think it's very widespread, but the fact that there's any of it at all is enough to make us take and require us to take very drastic action. And what we've done is very simple. We find out about all of these things -- we found out about all these General Dynamics things through our audits. We had the largest audits in the department's history. But that means usually a patient, time-consuming examination, and our changes now, because of these and other things that we've found, to require the contractor to certify under penalty of perjury that his claim doesn't include any of these items such as poltiical contributions and gifts and company trips and kennelling the company dogs and things like this. It's absolutely absurd for the taxpayers to be asked to pay for this kind of thing. So we're asking them to certify that they haven't included that. We will still audit, but I hope our job will be a little easier, but mostly I hope it will be a lot faster. The other thing we're doing is to try to get more contracts that have fixed costs, fixed prices.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Secretary, we'll have you back soon to pursue this.
Sec. WEINBERGER: Good. Thank you very much.
WOODRUFF: Thank you. Secretary Weinberger, for being with us. Robin?
MacNEIL: At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes said today that doctors who examined President Reagan last week found a benign growth, which they called a pseudo-polyp, in his lower intestine. They also reported some evidence of bleeding possibly caused by the pseudo-polyp or by the President's diet. The doctors plan to make further tests before they decide what to do.
Once again, the main stories of the day. Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko has died and Mikhail Gorbachev, his youngest lieutenant, was named to succeed him. Gorbachev said he wants detente with the United States.
The nuclear arms talks will open as scheduled in Geneva tomorrow.
In Lebanon Israeli soldiers killed 34 suspected guerrillas.
Good night, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Good night, Robin. That's our NewsHour for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you and good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
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This episode's headline: Soviet Succession; Pentagon View: Caspar Weinberger Interview. The guests include In Des Moines: JOHN CHRYSTAL, Soviet Agriculture Analyst; In Washington: ARKADY SHEVCHENKO, Former Soviet Diplomat; CASPAR WEINBERGER, Secretary of Defense; In Los Angeles: ARNOLD HORELICK, Soviet Affairs Analyst; Reports from NewsHour Correspondents: TIM SEBASTIAN, (BBC), in Moscow; JEREMY PAXMAN (BBC), in Moscow. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNEIL, Executive Editor; In Washington: JUDY WOODRUFF, Correspondent
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Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1985-03-11, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 18, 2019,
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