Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev's Address on the Nuclear Reactor Accident at Chernobyl

May 14, 1986

We are comforted by Mr. Gorbachev's assurances that "the worst is behind us'' in dealing with the Chernobyl reactor tragedy. Our immediate concern, from the time we learned of the accident, was primarily for the well-being of the people in the area. This is why we offered our assistance. Our offer stands. We have noted Mr. Gorbachev's suggestions regarding further international efforts to enhance the safety of nuclear powerplants. We believe that they deserve the most serious consideration. We strongly support additional international efforts to ensure nuclear plant safety and prompt reporting on accidents.

We are distressed, however, that Mr. Gorbachev used the occasion of his otherwise reassuring presentation to make unfounded charges against the United States and other Western governments. On this score he has obviously been misinformed. There has been no effort by this government or its partners at the Tokyo Economic Summit to make political capital out of the Chernobyl tragedy. The United States Government at no point encouraged inaccurate reporting on the accident. If some reports carried in the mass media were in fact inaccurate, this was an inevitable result of the extreme secrecy with which the Soviet authorities dealt with the accident in the days immediately following it. Citizens of foreign countries and their governments had a legitimate interest in knowing the facts, since their own health could be affected. In the absence of detailed, official information, the media reported what they could learn on their own. Any attempt to attribute legitimate foreign interest in a major catastrophe to devious political motives is as deplorable as it is without basis.

Unfounded accusations against others must not be used in an attempt to exonerate national officials from their obligation to inform the public promptly of accidents which may affect their health. Mr. Gorbachev also seems to be misinformed regarding the position of the United States and its allies on nuclear arms reduction. As the leaders who met at the Tokyo Economic Summit stated, ``each of us supports balanced, substantial, and verifiable reductions in the level of arms,'' and in regard to the U.S.-Soviet agreement to accelerate work at Geneva, ``we appreciate the United States negotiating efforts and call on the Soviet Union also to negotiate positively.'' The United States is eager to speed up negotiations to achieve a 50-percent reduction of strategic nuclear weapons as soon as possible. The United States has made concrete proposals and is waiting for a constructive Soviet reply.

Regarding a meeting between the President and General Secretary Gorbachev, the President has invited Mr. Gorbachev to visit the United States in late June to discuss the entire range of issues between the two countries. Mr. Gorbachev has not yet responded to this invitation. Nevertheless, it is clear that a meeting between the two leaders is possible this year if Mr. Gorbachev desires.

So far as the question of nuclear testing is concerned, the United States has proposed that U.S. and Soviet experts meet to initiate a dialog. We have as yet no Soviet response to this suggestion. It is difficult to understand the rationale for a meeting of our leaders confined to the nuclear testing issue, when the Soviet Union has up to now been unwilling to authorize a discussion at the expert level.