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Gorbachev Calls For Peace, Cooperation in Arctic

October 2, 1987 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) _ Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev called Thursday for international cooperation to turn the Arctic into a ″zone of peace″ and proposed East-West talks to restrict military activity in northern seas.

In particular, he said his country could agree to the withdrawal of submarines armed with ballistic missiles from the Soviet fleet based in the Baltic Sea.

Gorbachev unveiled the proposals in a nationally televised speech given in the north Russian port of Murmansk. Excerpts of the two-hour address were distributed by the official Tass news agency.

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The Soviet Union, Gorbachev said, is proposing negotiations between the Warsaw pact and NATO to limit air and naval activity in the Baltic, North, Norwegian and Greenland Seas.

Those waters are heavily patrolled by U.S. and Soviet surface warships, submarines and aircraft, and NATO defense plans consider mastery of the seas off Northern Europe vital in the event of a Soviet strike on the Western alliance.

Gorbachev also proposed the possible banning of naval activity in international straits and in busy shipping lanes in general, and suggested a conference on the topic be held in Leningrad.

He said the Soviet Union was ready to act as the ″guarantor″ of an agreement on the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in northern Europe.

″Let the north of the globe, the Arctic, become a zone of peace,″ Gorbachev declared.

Western defense analysts say the Soviet Union is the only country in northern Europe to possess nuclear weapons.

But Gorbachev mentioned a report that if the superpowers scrap their intermediate-range nuclear weapons, NATO is preparing to train for the use of sea- and air-based cruise missiles from the northern Atlantic.

″This would mean an additional threat, both to us and all the countries of northern Europe,″ the Soviet leader said.

Gorbachev said that if the international situation improved, the Soviet Union could also open sea routes along its northern coast to foreign shipping, with the Soviets providing icebreakers.

He also proposed cooperation of northern nations like the Soviet Union, Canada and the Nordic countries in science, environmental protection and the development of resources like oil and gas.

Previous Soviet proposals on the polar region have called for establishment of a ″nuclear-free zone″ and have had a mixed reception among Nordic nations.

Denmark and Norway, both of which belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have reacted negatively to the Soviet proposals, although they do not allow storage of nuclear weapons on their territory in peacetime.

Sweden, which is neutral, has been generally positive but reserved toward past Soviet proposals. Finland, which is also neutral, has welcomed them.

Gorbachev spoke at a meeting in Murmansk at which he delivered medals recognizing the northern port’s status as a ″hero city″ for its role in helping defeat the Germans in World War II.

Murmansk, which is ice-free, was the destination of Allied convoys delivering supplies to the Red Army and the Soviet civilian populace.

In his speech, Gorbachev praised the American, British and Soviet sailors who brought the convoys into Murmansk, and called their courage ″a bright symbol of cooperation between our peoples during the second world war.″