The atmosphere in Geneva at the arms talks this morning was transformed. Chief American arms negotiator, Max Kampelman, arrived in search not only of the details of the new Gorbachev offer, but of his Russian counterpart, Yuri Vorontsov.
Where is her answer?
Right here! laughter
The jollity was well-placed. It's the signal the Americans had been waiting for. Negotiating a deal without Moscow's insistence that it be tied to a Star Wars agreement is seen by the West as a statement of intent to sign a treaty within the remaining twenty-two months of the Reagan Presidency. Intensive negotiations around this table may produce it in less than six. In the aftermath of the Reykjavik summit, it was misgivings about a complete clear out of intermediate range nuclear weapons that drove Mrs Thatcher at Camp David to demand a set of guidelines about future negotiations. Tonight, in London, she was more specific:
I think there are quite a lot of things to be worked out, because, as well as the intermediate ones, there are short range ones in Europe. They have the majority of those. And then you have to look at the conventional balance, because they've got superiority in that. And so, I think if you go back and look through the Camp David communiqué, which I had with President Reagan some time ago, you'll find it's all there. There's a lot to be worked out, but it's a good step forward.
Put crudely, Mr Gorbachev has offered to return to the Reykjavik summit proposal of removing all medium range weapons from Europe. From the NATO side, Pershing and Cruise missiles, from his side, the SS20s. Mrs Thatcher is concerned that a complete clear out of medium range weapons leaves NATO's conventional forces of nearly two million men and 20,000 tanks exposed to the Warsaw Pact's superior numbers of nearly three million men and 46,000 tanks. She's also worried about shorter range nuclear weapons. NATO has 174, the Warsaw Pact 1,500, though Mr Gorbachev has said he will pull these back and negotiate on them. At Downing Street over the weekend, the Prime Minister started a series of intensive briefings for her visit to Moscow at the end of this month. Several key boxes centred on using the trip to urge the Russians to do exactly what Mr Gorbachev has done. Even if the super powers do conclude a medium range or INF weapons deal, Europe will still be far from nuclear weapons free. Both sides would still have battlefield nuclear weapons, NATO 2,000, the Warsaw Pact 10,000. The 162 British and French ballistic missiles would still be there, together with an unknown number of superpower strategic weapons. But the Gorbachev offer is a major start. The West Germans have said it's a chance that must not be missed. America's Secretary Shultz said that he's ready to go to Moscow. The once forlorn hope that Messrs Gorbachev and Reagan would ever meet again, is now less so, and the prospect for the first meeting ever to reduce nuclear weapons is now very real.