This story originally appeared in the November 18, 1985, issue of U.S.News & World Report.
Q Mr. President, you've been briefed by Secretary of State Shultz on his trip to Moscow. Did that briefing disturb you about the way the summit is shaping up?
A No, not at all, because Secretary Shultz's trip wasn't to do any major negotiating. The purpose was to give the Soviets the ideas we thought should be discussed at the summit and to find out from them what it was they wanted to discuss. To that end, I think the meeting served a useful purpose.
I think, also, that there's been too much of a tendency to try to build a euphoria in advance of the summit. None of us are euphoric about this. We realize that the United States and the Soviet Union have very real differences that have to be discussed. So George was trying to portray that meeting as not anything that should promote euphoric hopes that complex problems could be solved immediately.
Q Do you believe, as some experts do, that you are going to Geneva in an unusually strong bargaining position?
A Compared to previous years, yes. We do have a strength that we haven't had in times before this, both military and economic. We certainly don't go hat in hand. I believe this strength will aid us not in imposing our will on someone—we don't intend to do that—but in convincing the Soviets that there is an advantage to both nations in arriving at a better understanding than we have now.
Q How will you explain to Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev at Geneva your thinking behind the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as Star Wars?
A Well, the whole thing started right in our Cabinet Room quite some time ago. That was when, meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I brought up the question that nuclear weapons were the first weapons in the history of man that had not led to the creation of a defensive system to protect against them. I asked if it was worthwhile looking into this. Is it possible to come up with a defense? They were all agreed it was. And right there the program was given birth.
I think when Mr. Gorbachev understands that, he'll understand why we're not going to halt research into something that could be so important to all mankind. Our hope is that they might agree that both sides would do away with a certain number of weapons in our nuclear arsenals. If and when the research reveals that such a system is practical—that it could intercept missiles on their way to the target—then I believe that system should be used to bring an end to the threat of nuclear war.
I really mean it when I say that I would like to propose that we sit down with all nations that have nuclear weapons and work out an arrangement where they all agree to eliminate the weapons. In return, we would make this defensive system available to all the world. But if they wouldn't do that, it would not mean we would forgo deploying the system.
Q Are you committed to going ahead with testing and developing SDI, or is this something you would be prepared to negotiate with the Soviet Union?
A We believe all of that falls within the ABM Treaty. There have been protests from the Soviet Union that this isn't true. Well, we claim they've made some violations of the treaty. But, for our own part, we plan to remain within the treaty limits. We don't think that point comes up until you get to deployment, and before deployment we would seek the kind of agreement I mentioned.
Q So you feel everything short of deployment is permissible under the ABM Treaty?
A We believe that research in this process I outlined is well within the bounds of the treaty.
Q Can we return to the question of whether you are prepared to negotiate Soviet demands that the United States put limits on testing and developing defensive weapons as a condition for their reducing offensive weapons?
A No, I think that's a part of research. The Soviet Union is far ahead of us in this same kind of research. They started it years ago, and I think maybe one of their concerns is that we might get it before they do.
Q And so you're saying that research, as you've defined it, is nonnegotiable?
A We are going to seek to find out if there isn't a defensive weapon to match this offensive weapon.