WASHINGTON -- Bush administration officials said yesterday that the Soviet Union had responded enthusiastically to President Bush's initiative unilaterally reducing nuclear weapons and that the prospects for a complementary reaction were promising.
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, interviewed on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," said that Mr. Bush telephoned both Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin before making his Oval Office address Friday night.
"They were enthusiastic then, and they've been enthusiastic since," the Pentagon chief said.
But he noted that it would be unrealistic to expect immediate proposals from the Soviets:
"If somebody had hit us with this cold within 24 hours, we would not prepare a substantive response and say, 'OK, we'll take down the following systems.' It will take some time for them to work it [out]. But I think they will."
National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft also praised the Soviet reaction but echoed Mr. Cheney's caution about specifics.
"We'd like to see him [Mr. Gorbachev] respond in like manner or at least in parallel manner to the proposals that the president made," Mr. Scowcroft said on a segment of NBC's "Meet the Press."
"This is a comprehensive proposal, and to respond in 24 hours is too much to expect."
Despite some initial fears that Moscow might react with hesitation to the U.S. offer to destroy tactical weapons and reduce strategic bomber alert status, Mr. Gorbachev told a Soviet television interviewer: "I can say without any exaggeration that our position, our assessment of these proposals, is positive, very positive."
Mr. Scowcroft rejected suggestions that some administration officials found the Soviet response "cool," saying, "I was aware of the conversations that the president had, both with President Gorbachev and President Yeltsin, and I can tell you that their response was enthusiastic."
Mr. Scowcroft also pointed out that the U.S. initiative does not replace further arms control negotiations.