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Moscow retreats on shipping talks because of Poland

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West European negotiators have won unprecedented, unilateral concessions from Moscow in shipping talks here - thanks, partly, to evident Soviet concern over Western reaction to events in Poland.

European diplomats point out that, even without the Polish crisis, the Soviets had good economic reason for their first such retreat in an increasingly bitter battle with Western shippers for world cargoes.

The Soviets, making enormous gains against Western competitors by charging much lower prices, ''knew they were pushing us too far,'' one diplomat said. The Europeans, for their part, made clear in the Jan. 11 to 15 talks their determination to take ''unilateral measures'' against Moscow if it did not show more restraint.

There has been no reference to the talks, much less comment on them, in the official Soviet press.

But diplomats said the Polish crisis was clearly one element in determining the Soviet approach in the talks, with government and business figures from West Germany, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

They said that a Soviet negotiator had said privately that one reason for Moscow's willingness to offer concessions was concern over ''talk'' in Western Europe about possible sanctions against Moscow over Poland.

Although the West Europeans have not matched US sanctions, most have undertaken to try not to undermine the American moves. The other 13 NATO states have also said they will consider economic and other steps against Moscow should Polish martial law continue unabated.

European diplomats here are assuming a further reason for the Soviet position at the recent talks was the US move, in protest over the Polish military crackdown, to suspend talks on a new shipping accord with Moscow.


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