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Third track committee meets with Trudeau

Metta Spencer — February 1984

OTTAWA – On January 10, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau lunched at 24 Sussex Drive with fourteen members of the Third Track Committee, a committee that supports his peace initiative. Key members of his task force who were also on hand – Geoffrey Pearson, David Crenna, Gary Smith and Peter O’Malley – met with the committee beforehand and afterward.

The committee’s organiser, Dr. Robert Laxer, remarked that Mr. Trudeau’s effort has already begun to have a beneficial effect on the tone of international discourse, and the Prime Minister agreed that the “megaphone diplomacy” seems to have stopped. A major purpose in his peace initiative has been to encourage nations to bring an appropriate level of political energy to bear on stopping the current nuclear arms race. Therefore he expressed gratification that the Stockholm conference has been elevated to an occasion for meetings between several foreign ministers.

A major theme in the lunchtime discussion was the testing of the cruise missile,’ which members of the committee deplored. The Prime Minister maintained, however, that the Soviets have expressed far less alarm about the cruise missile than about the Pershing. He added that the type of cruise missile with which Canada is involved is the least dangerous of the three types, since bombers would not launch it until they approached the North Pole. This flight would take several hours, during which time it (unlike ground or sea-launched missiles) could be recalled.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the new generation of missiles have no military significance. Instead, he portrayed their purpose as the demonstration of political will: Since NATO said it would deploy them if an arms control agreement is not reached, its members now feel obliged to do so. Likewise,” since the Soviet Union said it would walk out of the talks if the West deployed these missiles, it too thinks it must demonstrate its resolve by keeping its announced intentions.

While the Prime Minister’s comments seemed quite sincere, they included no surprises and no new basis for optimism. He pointed out the time constraints limiting his initiative: the Soviets may choose to wait until after the November, U.S elections before attempting any new resolution to the conflict. Since Mr. Reagan may, of course, be re-elected, the outcome may simply be a delay that the world can ill afford. Mr. Trudeau spoke of his planned visits to the United Nations and to the Soviet Union, and of his intention to report to Parliament. in a major speech afterward.

When questioned about his attitude toward the peace movement, Trudeau expressed appreciation of its constructive impact on governments. His only concern had been a worry, he said, that it might split the NATO alliance, but this has not happened. He encouraged peace activists, therefore, to continue their campaign. Accordingly, some of his guests proposed ways in which the new disarmament centre that is now being planned can support the efforts of grassroots Canadian peace organisations.

Following the session with Trudeau, the participants expressed, above all, their strong impression of the Prime Minister’s sincerity throughout the discussion. If the activists were united in their disappointment about anything, it was probably a sense that Trudeau does not use all the influence at his disposal. He seems ‘convinced that his full cooperation with NATO policy is absolutely required if he is to influence its other members. In the same vein, he and his staff seem not to believe it possible for him to lead public opinion very much here in Canada, but want to make sure that” there is already clear support for a policy before adopting it.

Some of the peace activists at the lunch expressed regret at the excessive modesty with which the visit to the United States was publicised; they noted that the scanty media coverage there was taken as an indication that Americans have no interest in Trudeau’s peace initiative.

His staff suggested that, on the contrary, his presentation was kept deliberately low-key, so, as not to offend the U.S. president in an election year by going before the nation’s TV viewers with a proposal that he may not like.

Not all of the committee members agreed that such diplomatic caution is necessary. They did agree, however, that the Prime Minister has thought deeply about the nuclear policies that concern us, and that he is keenly aware of their complex ramifications.