"The greatest contribution President Reagan could make to America is an arms agreement with the Soviet Union and such an agreement is a real possibility," Anthony Lewis '48, a columnist for The New York Times said last night at the Cambridge Forum.
Speaking before a standing-room-only crowd of about 300, Lewis said "a Reagan trip to Moscow to meet with President Brezhnev could quite possibly come off and include substantive arms control measures that the senate would ratify."
"It's that notion that keeps my strain of optimism running," he added.
Fielding questions from a panel of international journalists after his remarks. Lewis, an outspoken critic of the current administration, said that it is very significant that the crisis in Poland has not killed the arms talks in Geneva. "This really shows a reversal in Reagan's attitude and policy," he added.
In responding to the six panelists, all Fellows of Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism, Lewis said he is a "little less ferocious" about the Reagan administration than he was last year because of a "a new realism and restraint on the president's part."
But Lewis criticized Reagan's "double standard" on human rights violations, as he has in recent Times columns. Lewis has faulted the United States government for focusing on human rights violations in Poland while neglecting racism in South Africa, repression in Guatemala, and antisemitism in Argentina.
"We would be more effective in dealing with Polish wrongs if we recognized other wrongs elsewhere," he told the Forum audience, adding, "Human rights are an element of U.S. foreign policy that will never be lacking."
Saying that "any president who failed to avert nuclear war, to put it mildly, would have failed at foreign policy," Lewis added that Reagan "is headed in the right direction in dealing with what should be our first priority--preventing nuclear war."
Ramindar Singh, a Nieman fellow from the Indian Express of New Delhi, said in response to Lewis that some foreign nations perceive Reagan as a war-monger and overtly aggressive. He added, "Reagan and Haig send shivers up our spine with statements about intervening in Saudi Arabia."
But Lewis defended Reagan, claiming that the president has "moderated his tones over the last year--he is more realistic and rational." When asked by Piero Benetazzo of La Republica, an Italian newspaper, whether U.S. foreign policy could be "more consistent and more consensus-oriented," Lewis said, "Our system has a certain amount of in-coherence and I see nothing that can be done to change that fact."
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