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Bush urges deeper troop cuts in State of the Union

By NORMAN D. SANDLER

WASHINGTON -- Seeking to 'take the lead in forging peace,' President Bush proposed sharper superpower troop cuts Wednesday night to catch up with the 'Revolution of '89' that has changed the shape of Europe and reduced the risk of war.

In his first State of the Union address, delivered to a joint session of Congress and a nationwide broadcast audience, Bush offered to cut the troop limit on each side now under negotiation in East-West talks in Vienna from 275,000 to 195,000.

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In an optimistic 36-minute assessment of the nation's well-being and world role, Bush hailed the dizzying change in East-West relations and committed to 'swift conclusion' of accords on conventional, chemical and strategic arms.

'Today, with communism crumbling, our aim must be to ensure democracy's advances,' he said, 'to take the lead in forging peace and freedom's best hope: a great and growing commonwealth of free nations.'

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America, he said, 'stands at the center of a widening circle of freedom.'

Bush was all smiles and handshakes when weclomed by hearty applause into the House chamber where he once served. He greeted Vice President Dan Quayle and House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., and smiled up to his wife, Barbara, who watched from the gallery.

Except for the troop proposal and an announcement that U.S. invasion forces would be out of Panama within four weeks, the address was largely philosophical, emphasizing education goals and environmental aspirations, concern for children and the nation's needy, rooting out crime and drugs and guaranteeing a continued economic expansion.

The arms control overture, however, was timely, offering a benefit not only to the United States but also to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, whom Bush has supported in recent weeks in the face of ethnic unrest and internal dissension.

Reaction to the speech had a predictably partisan tinge, although the troop proposal won broad support. Otherwise, many Democrats echoed the opinion of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who said Bush outlined a state of the union that is 'outstanding if you are wealthy or involved in military maneuvers, but unfortunate if you are poor or in need of help from society.'

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Bush renewed his inaugural pledge of cooperation with Congress, but also put the majority Democrats on notice that his 'no new taxes' campaign pledge stands and renewed his call for a capital gains tax cut -- one of the most bitterly contested issues of the last session of Congress.

The president was interrupted by applause about 30 times, winning a standing ovation for his arms proposal. Some of the loudest applause greeted his denunciation of recent hate-inspired mail bombings as Bush exhorted Americans to 'confront and condemn racism, anti-semitism, bigotry and hate -- not next week, not tomorrow, but right now.'

Among the topics missing from the speech was China, where Bush's policy of renewing relations with Beijing despite the bloody suppression of pro-democracy students generated a bruising veto battle last week.

Likewise, the president did not mention several topics he has promoted in the past as worthy of constitutional amendments -- abortion, school prayer, a balanced budget, a line-item veto and protection of the flag.

And the peace overture was accompanied by a strong pitch for Congress to support new strategic weapons systems and the 'Star Wars' antimissile program -- already being mentioned for probable budget cuts -- in the face of a continued threat from Soviet nuclear forces.

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At the outset of the address, Bush marveled at 'the Revolution of '89' -- the dramatic events he likened in impact to the end of World War II -- 'change so striking that it marks the beginning of a new era in the world's affairs' and produced a wave of freedom from Poland to Panama.

With a U.S.-backed government installed in Panama, Bush sought to overcome Latin American resentment to the use of force that ousted Manuel Noriega in power by announcing U.S. invasion troops would be home 'before the end of February.'

The Pentagon reported earlier that 16,500 troops remained in Panama and would be withdrawn to the level of 13,600 stationed there before the invasion.

One year into office and riding a wave of near-record popularity, Bush again extended a familiar hand of cooperation to Congress even while alluding to election-year fights in the offing over taxes and budget priorities.

'Let's work together to do the will of the people: clean air, child care, the Educational Excellence Act, crime and drugs. It's time to act: the farm bill, transportation policy, product liability reform, enterprise zones. It's time to act together,' he said.

His boldest political stroke, however, was again on the foreign policy front, where Bush has claimed a string of successes over the last year even as key parts of his domestic agenda have languished before Congress.

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Calling this 'a period of great transition, great hope, yet great uncertainty,' Bush reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the defense of Western Europe but said in view of changed circumstances, 'troop levels can still be lower.'

'The time is right to move forward on a conventional arms control agreement to move us to more appropriate levels of military forces in Europe,' he said, 'a coherent defense program that ensures the United States will continue to be a catalyst for peaceful change in Europe.'

A senior administration official said Gorbachev, informed of the offer by Bush by telephone early in the day, was 'very appreciative and thought that this was the kind of attitude that was very conducive for good relations.'

U.S. allies, secretly notified in the previous 72 hours by Bush and a pair of emissaries who secretly visited four NATO capitals, were 'very pleased,' the official said.

As he returned to the White House after his speech, Bush said Gorbachev had been 'receptive' to his arms initiative, 'but I don't know whether he's supportive or not. I just told him about it and so we have to wait.'

The proposal, which Bush wants incorporated into the Western position at East-West troop talks in Vienna, received bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill, where Democrats have attacked Bush on defense matters in recent days.

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'I am delighted,' said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., 'and hope this will lead to even greater reductions in the near future.'

With the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Bush has been under pressure to speed the disarmament process, but as recently as the Dec. 2-3 Malta summit seemed resistent to going beyond the current negotiating stance.

Because of 'the dramatic changes' in Europe, which have moved faster than expected and seen former Soviet satellites demand that Soviet troops leave their soil, the senior official said Bush decided to enrich his earlier offer.

'Events were running ahead of the negotiations,' the official said. The new proposal, he said, 'not only gets us out again in command of events, but it does give us a base which we think is sustainable through this current period.'

NATO and Warsaw Pact negotiators are working to conclude a treaty by fall that would limit the United States and Soviet Union to 275,000 troops each in the whole of Europe, as Bush proposed eight months ago to a summit of NATO leaders.

The decision to pare that figure came amid demands for a bigger 'peace dividend' from lowered tensions in Europe and a perceived U.S. desire to help Gorbachev show conservative critics in the Kremlin that his reforms have rewards.

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While blunting accusations that he has failed to recognize the lessened risk of war in Europe, Bush could have trouble now preventing Democrats from seeking premature savings from troop cuts still on the bargaining table.

As the administration all but ruled out near-term savings, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., expressed hope the troop-cut proposal was 'a sign that the administration is also prepared to take bolder steps than we have seen so far in other areas of military spending.'

Sen. Pete Dominici, R-N.M., said the troop cut could 'save us about $12 billion in 1993 and '94.'

The Bush proposal would apply to 260,000 of the 305,000 U.S. troops in Western Europe and all 565,000 Soviet troops in Eastern Europe. It envisages overall cuts of 65 percent for Moscow and 26 percent for Washington.

Above the 195,000 limit for Central Europe, the United States would be allowed to retain 30,000 other troops now stationed outside that zone in Britain, Italy, Turkey and Greece.

The move came amid a swirl of speculation about Gorbachev's fate in the face of ethnic violence in Azerbaijan and threats of secession from dissident Lithuania that have raised doubts about his political survival.

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The White House worked to dampen suspense before the speech by trickling out Bush's legislative agenda ahead of time, culminating in Monday's proposed $1.23 trillion budget for fiscal 1991.

That strategy, intended in part to pre-empt some of thepartisan sniping that might otherwise undercut his appearance on Capitol Hill, also reflected Bush's own desire not to dwell on 'state of government vs. state of the union.'

It was his 'invest in America' theme for the 1990s that Bush trumpeted on the domestic side, adding to the four C's at the heart of his agenda -- crime, clean air, child care and capital gains -- a fifth: competitiveness.

After seeing budget director Richard Darman bombarded for a second day with congressional doubts about his budget, Bush defended it as one that attacks the deficit and national needs with 'more than enough federal spending.'

As is his nature, Bush maintained a conciliatory tone, but alluded to a brewing battle over taxes by promoting his proposed cut in the capital gains tax and criticizing a call by Sen. Daniel Moynihan, D-N.Y., to cut Social Security taxes used to mask the size of the deficit.

Because those taxes were raised to ensure future retirement benefits would be paid, Bush said, 'The last thing we need to do is mess around with Social Security.'

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The overture, which may come at an opportune time for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, was the only major surprise of a speech that set a domestic emphasis on educational excellence, environmental protection and economic competitiveness for the 1990s.

At the outset, Bush marveled at the historic events of 1989 -- 'change so striking that it marks the beginning of a new era in the world's affairs' -- that produced a wave of freedom from Poland to Panama.

And with a democratic government installed in Panama, Bush sought to repair Latin American resentment to the use of force that placed it in power by announcing U.S. invasion troops would be home 'before the end of February.'NEWLN: more

The Pentagon reported earlier that 16,500 troops remained in Panama and would be withdrawn down to the force of 13,600 stationed there before the invasion. Bush has proposed a $1 billion economic reconstruction plan for Panama.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Bush said he chose not to detail 'every new initiative we plan for the coming year,' but address 'the new world of challenges and opportunities before us' that has emerged over the last year.

One year into office and riding a wave of near-record popularity, Bush again extended a familiar hand of cooperation to Congress even while alluding to election-year fights in the offing over taxes and budget priorities.

Advertisement

'Let's work together to do the will of the people: clean air, child care, the Educational Excellence Act, crime and drugs. It's time to act: the farm bill, transportation policy, product liability reform, enterprise zones. It's time to act together,' he said.

His boldest political stroke, however, was again on the foreign policy front, where Bush has claimed a string of successes over the last year even as key parts of his domestic agenda have languished before Congress.NEWLN: more

Calling this 'a period of great transition, great hope, yet great uncertainty,' Bush reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the defense of Western Europe but said in view of changed circumstances, 'troop levels can still be lower.'

'The time is right to move forward on a conventional arms control agreement to move us to more appropriate levels of military forces in Europe,' he said, 'a coherent defense program that ensures the United States will continue to be a catalyst for peaceful change in Europe.'

A senior administration official said Gorbachev, informed of the offer by Bush early in the day, was 'very appreciative and thought that this was the kind of attitude that was very conducive for good relations.'

Advertisement

U.S. allies, secretly notified in the previous 72 hours by Bush and a pair of emissaries who secretly visited four NATO capitals, were 'very pleased,' the official said.

The proposal, which Bush wants incorporated into the Western position at East-West troop talks in Vienna, received bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill, where Democrats have attacked Bush on defense matters in recent days.

'I am delighted,' said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., 'and hope this will lead to even greater reductions in the near future.'

With the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Bush has been under pressure to speed the disarmament process, but as recently as the Dec. 2-3 Malta summit seemed resistent to going beyond the current negotiating stance.

Because of 'the dramatic changes' in Europe, which have moved faster than expected and seen former Soviet satellites demand that Soviet troops leave their soil, the senior official said Bush decided to enrich his earlier offer.

'Events were running ahead of the negotiations,' the official said. The new proposal, he said, 'not only gets us out again in command of events, but it does give us a base which we think is sustainable through this current period.'

Advertisement

NATO and Warsaw Pact negotiators are working to conclude a treaty by fall that would limit the United States and Soviet Union to 275,000 troops each in the whole of Europe, as Bush proposed eight months ago to a summit of NATO leaders.

The decision to pare that figure came amid demands for a bigger 'peace dividend' from lowered tensions in Europe and a perceived U.S. desire to help Gorbachev show conservative critics in the Kremlin that his reforms have rewards.

Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the offer was 'more in line with the reality of what is happening in Eastern Europe and what is likely to happen with defense budgets in the United States.'

While blunting accusations that he has failed to recognize the lessened risk of war in Europe, the problem now before Bush may be in preventing Democrats from seeking premature savings from troop cuts still on the bargaining table.

As the administration all but ruled out near-term savings, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., expressed hope the troop-cut proposal was 'a sign that the administration is also prepared to take bolder steps than we have seen so far in other areas of military spending.'

Advertisement

The Bush proposal would apply to 260,000 of the 305,000 U.S. troops in Western Europe and all 565,000 Soviet troops in Eastern Europe. It envisages overall cuts of 65 percent for Moscow and 26 percent for Washington.

Above the 195,000 limit for Central Europe, the United States would be allowed to retain 30,000 other troops now stationed outside that zone in Britain, Italy, Turkey and Greece.

The move came amid a swirl of speculation about Gorbachev's fate in the face of ethnic violence in Azerbaijan and threats of secession from dissident Lithuania that have raised doubts about his political survival.

Although White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said there had been 'only an oblique reference' to Gorbachev's political crisis in the call from Bush, that alone seemed intended to signal support for the Kremlin leader.NEWLN: more

The White House worked to dampen suspense before the speech by trickling out Bush's legislative agenda ahead of time, culminating in Monday's proposed $1.23 trillion budget for fiscal1991.

That strategy, intended in part to pre-empt some of the partisan sniping that might otherwise undercut his appearance on Capitol Hill, also reflected Bush's own desire not to dwell on 'state of government vs. state of the union.'

Advertisement

It was his 'invest in America' theme for the 1990s that Bush trumpeted on the domestic side, adding to the four C's at the heart of his agenda -- crime, clean air, child care and capital gains -- a fifth: competitiveness.

After seeing budget director Richard Darman bombarded for a second day with congressional doubts about his budget, Bush defended it as one that attacks the deficit and national needs with 'more than enough federal spending.'NEWLN: more

As is his nature, Bush maintained a conciliatory tone, but alluded to a brewing battle over taxes by promoting his proposed cut in the capital gains tax and criticizing a call by Sen. Daniel Moynihan, D-N.Y., to cut Social Security taxes used to mask the size of the deficit.

Because those taxes were raised to ensure future retirement benefits would be paid, Bush said, 'The last thing we need to do is mess around with Social Security.'

Touting the record spending his budget proposes for education, space exploration, the environment and research and development, Bush also laid out a set of education goals developed in conjunction with the nation's governors, including a challenge to American students to achieve global pre-eminence by the year 2000 in math and science, areas where they now rank near the bottom among major industrialized countries.

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'Ambitious aims? Of course. Easy to do? Far from it,' Bush said. 'But the future's at stake. This nation will not accept anything less than excellence in education.'

The Bush budget proposal boasts more than $1 billion in budget authority, an increase of 26 percent from 1990, for improvements in science, math and engineering education to create a more skilled workforce.

adv 9 pm est

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