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Soviets try to get between US and its allies

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The nicest thing for Soviet officials about shouting at Ronald Reagan from Moscow is that his West European allies can't help but listen in. Off to a stormy start with the new administration, the Kremlin seems hopeful at least of insulating its relatively healthy ties with key West European states from any long-term worsening of relations with Washington.

In the best of all possible Soviet worlds, the current rhetorical shoot-out with Washington will yet expire when the superpowers get down to "really important" issues of detente. These, to the Soviets, include arms control and trade and technological exchanges with the West -- and not much else.

Thus the official news media here still seem reluctant to tee off on Mr. Reagan, himself, preferring to take aim on surrogates like the secretaries of state or defence. Toward the President there remains something of the tone of a bad report card sent to the parents of a lagging junior-high-school student.

"It would be premature at least," remarked a veteran diplomat, "to say that the Kremlin is panicking, or has definitely given up on Mr. Reagan."

But the public line toward the new administration has been visibly hardening, particularly since US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's Feb. 3 suggestion that Washington might reopen plans to produce a neutron weapon.

At the same time, there have been signs of a rekindled Soviet hankering to encourage splits in the Western alliance.

Whether this will pay off remains to be seen. There may be early indications in March when, European sources here say, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher tentatively plans to visit.


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