Both Superpowers Need the Summit

January 25, 1991

The trampling of Baltic freedoms is producing a backlash in Washington. By a 417-0 vote, the House of Representatives has condemned Soviet violence and called on President Bush to work toward "a coordinated approach on economic sanctions," if the Kremlin continues to suppress popularly elected governments in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The European Parliament, for its part, already has suspended $1.5 billion in food and technical aid to the Soviet Union.

These are understandable gestures of disenchantment and ire. They are based on the assumption that while the Soviets may shrug off verbal protests, they have to consider the impact of economic penalties. In reality, Soviets already have spent much of the previously authorized U.S. aid. Thus the only really effective lever is to deny Moscow any new economic aid, as long as central authorities permit continuing violations of democratic principles. This is a posture we urge the Bush administration to take.

At the same time, we cannot agree with voices in Washington that urge cancellation of next month's scheduled summit meeting in Moscow. In our view, the twin crises in the Baltics and the Persian Gulf make it even more important than before for Presidents Bush and Gorbachev to meet. That is not "appeasement," just practical politics. If superpower relations are not to return to Cold War tensions, the presidents of both countries have to be able to maintain open channels.

Bilateral matters are only part of the summit agenda, of course. At last summer's Washington meeting, Presidents Bush and Gorbachev pledged to bring the strategic arms reduction talks to completion, sign a treaty reducing long-range nuclear missiles, bombers and submarines by 30 percent and continue on to the next phase of measures to reduce the global nuclear threat.

Years of hard work have gone into those negotiations. Stumbling blocks still remain, but the START treaty should be completed. That is in the interests of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Cancellation of next month's summit -- or even an indefinite postponement -- could endanger the whole carefully crafted process that has brought us this far. It could undercut the "new world order" Mr. Bush hopes will emerge from the gulf war, where Soviet cooperation has been essential.

Other issues on the summit agenda are equally important. They include securing future peace in much-changed Europe as well as handling a bundle of sticky regional problems. These serious topics warrant thorough exploration by the two presidents as well as their expert working groups.

The summit is too vital to be postponed.

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