WASHINGTON, March 21, 1985 (UPI) - President Reagan said Thursday it is ''high time'' for a U.S.-Soviet summit and he is ready to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev whenever the new Kremlin chief finds it convenient.
''I think there is a good chance'' of a summit being arranged, Reagan said, citing some unspecified areas of negotiation between Washington and Moscow that ''could probably be further advanced if we met at a summit.''
Appearing in the White House East Room for a nationally broadcast news conference, Reagan also indicated a willingness to compromise on contentious budget issues, but drew the line at further cuts in Pentagon spending. He dismissed freezing Social Security payments on the ground that would not ease the budget deficit.
The president also prodded the House to follow the Senate's lead and approve the building of 21 MX missiles this year -- a $1.5 billion expenditure he said is crucial to the success of nuclear weapons talks with the Soviet Union.
The president also:
--Reiterated that he views the system of apartheid in South Africa as ''repugnant,'' but said the recent outbreak of violence there will not lead to a change in U.S. policy of ''quiet diplomacy'' rather than trying to force it through economic and other sanctions.
--Expressed regret at the deaths of CBS News crew members in Lebanon, but said he was certain the action of Israeli forces that fired the artillery shells ''wasn't deliberate.''
--Said he decided not to visit a Nazi concentration camp site during his visit to Germany in May because that would reawaken ''the memories and the passions'' of World War II. Instead, he said, the visit coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the end of the war should mark ''the beginning of peace and friendship among us.''
Reagan insisted he was not ''rebuffed'' by Gorbachev's failure to respond promptly and directly to his invitation to a summit, delivered by Vice President George Bush last week when he went to Moscow for the funeral of Konstatin Chernenko, Gorbachev's predecessor.
''The man has only been in office for a few days, and I have some idea of what is confronting him now,'' Reagan said of Gorbachev, who at 54 is the youngest Soviet leader since Stalin took power.
Reagan said he had not abandoned his previous requirement that any summit be ''well prepared,'' but rather that recent contacts between the superpowers have now laid sufficient groundwork for such a meeting.
''There are a number of things ... we're negotiating or talking to each other (about) on a ministerial level,'' he said. ''Some of those could probably be further advanced if we met at a summit. ... And I think it's high time we did this.''
Administration officials have suggested the most convenient place and time for a Reagan-Gorbachev summit would be in New York in September, when the Communist Party chief might appear to address the United Nations.
Arrangements for a meeting might be discussed when Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Vienna in mid-May.
The news conference, the second of Reagan's second term, kept up the once-a-month pace he has adopted at the urging of first lady Nancy Reagan.
Reagan bantered easily with reporters several times during the news conference. When asked about a move by conservatives to take over the CBS television network, Reagan said, ''Boone Pickens, is that what you're talking about?'' His reference to the acquisitive Texas entrepreneur finessed any mention of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., the outspoken conservative who is encouraging a take over of CBS to end its ''liberal bias.''
In response to a follow-up, Reagan gave this view of TV news: ''I just turn it on, look at it, and scream every once in a while -- to myself.''
Reagan used his opening statement to continue a hard-sell campaign for the MX, a highly accurate 10-warhead intercontinental weapons that must win two House votes next week to stay in prodcution.
The Senate gave two affirmative votes to the MX this week. Hailing that action, Reagan said, ''Now is the testing time for the House.''
''The votes there will answer the question of whether we stand united at Geneva or whether America will face the Soviet Union as a nation divided over the most fundamental questions of national security,'' he said.
''No request by an American president for a major strategic system deemed vital to national security has ever been denied by an American Congress,'' Reagan said. ''It is that tradition of bipartisan unity on national defense that brought the Soviets back'' to the arms talks.
''Unless that tradition is maintained next week in the House, there's little prospect of success at Geneva,'' he warned.
On another strategic issue, Reagan was asked about his comment last month that the United States faces a decision on whether to violate the SALT 2 treaty when it deploys a new missile submarine later this year. The administration has accused the Soviets of violating the arms pact.
Reagan emphasized the question of whether some U.S. missiles will be dismantled to stay under treaty limits is still open, but also said, ''We're not going to do anything that might undercut the negotiations that are going on.''
Nonetheless, he noted that the American record ''of observing all the niceties of all the treaties is so much better than theirs, that it won't cause any great stir.''
On the budget, Reagan warned that his request for the Pentagon is a rock-bottom figure. ''Any further cuts are actually going to run the risk of lowering our (military) capability,'' he said.
''If we cut it in half there are people on (Capitol) Hill that would still think it would have to be cut more than that,'' he said.
The Republican-led Senate Budget Committee voted for an increase in military outlays only to cover inflation next fiscal year, but Reagan has sought a 6 percent hike. Senate Republicans planned to meet with Reagan Friday in an effort to reach a compromise on the budget.
Asked if he was prepared to look at the senators' work and make compromises, Reagan said, ''Oh, yes. They have something we can sit down and talk about and see where we come out.
But in addition to standing firm on military spending, Reagan also rejected freezing Social Security cost-of-living increases, which the Senate panel proposes.
''Actually, I think we're wasting a lot of time talking about it,'' he said, noting Social Security is paid from a separate trust fund that cannot be used to directly defray the overall deficit.
As for a possible tax increase, Reagan said, ''We are nowhere near the point now'' to start talking about added levies. ''To start talking taxes at the time takes the heat off the backs of those who don't want to cut spending.''
Reagan indirectly responded to a Wall Street Journal report Wednesday that said he often calls on reporters who wear red at his news conferences. Reagan, who wore a red tie, recognized 12 reporters wearing red ties or dresses -- at one point referring to his wife's preference for the color. Six other less vibrantly dressed reporters also were recognized during the 31-minute session.
On other topics, the president:
--Said the current banking crisis is limited to state-insured savings and loans in Ohio who had ''not availed themselves'' of federal insurance and the problem ''is not a major threat to the banking system.'' The Federal Reserve is prepared to help, he said, and ''our people are on top of it.''
--Vowed not to ''hold a grudge against anyone'' when asked about Senate Republicans who voted against the MX. Earlier it had been reported Reagan would not campaign for the re-election of GOP members who did not toe the line on the missile and other key administration priorities.
--Said he has given no thought to recognizing the anti-Sandinista rebels as Nicaragua's government-in-exile. He said the real issue is helping the Nicaraguans, who he described as people ''who have had communist tyranny imposed on them nu force, deception, fraud.''
--Maintained the United States has not ''been idle'' in seeking peace in the Middle East, saying, ''We have been trying to build up a relationship with the Arab nations, as well as the relationship we've always had with Israel.'' He said there will be no change in U.S. refusal to talk with the Palestine Liberation Organization until it recognizes Israel's right to exist.