Reagan talk 'war mongering,' Soviets say

Moscow -- June 13, 1987 -- (Reuters) - The Soviet Union yesterday denounced U.S. President Ronald Reagan's speech calling for the demolition of the Berlin Wall as war-mongering that ignored the reasons behind its construction.

"Reagan delivered an openly provocative, war-mongering speech, in the spirit of the times of the Cold War," the official news agency Tass said in a report from West Berlin, where the president spoke earlier in the day.

The wall was built to protect East Germany against "hostile activities" from West Berlin, Tass said.

But Donald Regan, the president's former chief of staff, said Reagan scored a brilliant public relations coup against the Soviet Union, The Star's Brian McAndrew reports.

Regan, who resigned in February in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal, told a Toronto luncheon yesterday that Gorbachev must respond to the challenge.

"The Europeans feel Gorbachev is much more of a man of peace than Ronald Reagan, which surprises the heck out of us because none of us feel that Ronald Reagan wants to go to war with anybody over anything," Regan said before 750 people.

Communist authorities erected the wall in 1961 to stem a flood of emigration to West Berlin.

In a dramatic climax to his 10-day trip to Europe yesterday, Reagan challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to demolish the wall and create a new era of freedom.

"Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate," said Reagan in a forceful voice at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of Europe's harsh division. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

'Asparagus in store'

Several hundred East Berliners and tourists gathered on the other side of the gate to listen to Reagan's remarks, but heard only unintelligible sounds and distant cheering.

An elderly woman, more impressed with a rare commodity than a presidential visit, said as she passed the crowd: "You're standing around here and there's asparagus in the store."

In West Berlin, the head of the Soviet information service Novosti, Valentin Falin, said by telephone from Moscow that Reagan's speech was reminiscent of Cold War rhetoric.

"West Berlin is a bad place for muscle-flexing," he added.

Observing that Gorbachev had relaxed some controls and hinted at "a new policy of reform and freedom," the U.S. president called upon the Soviet leader to show that the changes amounted to more than "token gestures."

He then said that tearing down the wall would be the "one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace."

U.S. officials were visibly disappointed in the reaction of the carefully selected West Berlin crowd, which had been supplied with hundreds of American flags.

Roar of approval

Many of Reagan's most provocative lines received only scattered applause although the audience did explode with a roar of approval for Reagan's "tear down the wall" line.

The crowd, estimated by officials at 20,000, was about half the number expected.

Later yesterday, when Reagan called British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to congratulate her on her election victory, he told her that his call for the wall's demolition was "well received."

Reuters photo Ronald Reagan behind bullet-proof glass at Berlin Wall

Copyright The Toronto Star