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Overture to a duet

American officials in Moscow have little public access to Soviet society. So it can be counted a small but meaningful step when the US envoy delivers a July 4 message over Soviet television. He did not so this year, and that is worth noting. Last year, it will be recalled, the Kremlin cancelled this traditional holiday message because it contained references to Afghanistan.

There are more ways than one to make a point, however. And there is little doubt millions of Soviet television viewers drew the appropriate parallel when they heard US charge d'affaires Jack Matlock tell them that Americans were grateful that no US soldiers were engaged in battle in any land.

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Rather than this indirect rebuke to their own country's actions, however, what everyday Russians wanted to hear was Mr. Matlock's expression of hope for an improvement of Soviet-American relations. "We can overcome our current problems only by a frank and open dialogue," he said, "by coming to understand each others' hopes and fears and by learning to avoid conflict by restraint in our actions."

Many may read into the term "restraint" an oblique reference to Soviet actions in Poland. But we would like to think Mr. Matlock's carefully crafted comments were intended also as a genuine reaffirmation of the need for understanding on both sides. It is time to have that "frank and open dialogue," and President Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev, one hopes, ar e moving in that direction.

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