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Andropov drops tantalizing hints on missile cuts

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Moscow has leaked another in a series of hints it might eventually move to meet a key US concern in talks on limiting European nuclear forces. The worry is that the Soviets, under proposed arms reductions, would simply reposition mobile SS-20 missiles targeted at Western Europe, rather than destroy or dismantle them.

Even with the Soviet hints at flexibility, there is no public signal the superpowers are nearing agreement on missile destruction - much less on how many weapons each side would shelve as part of an agreement.

The Soviets have implied readiness to consider compromise with their US negotiating partners yet have avoided any major, explicit concession to Western insistence that all medium-range Soviet missiles be physically scrapped.

Some Western diplomats suspect the Kremlin hopes to encourage public pressure on the US to reciprocate at the Geneva negotiating table.

The US has so far stood firm on its opening proposal, announced in late 1981 and rejected by Moscow as unacceptably one-sided. The US position is that Moscow must scrap its entire medium-range missile force, in swap for NATO's abandoning plans to deploy new US rockets in Europe beginning late this year.

The Geneva talks are due to resume in February.

The latest Soviet move came in a Jan. 11 meeting with visiting US congressmen and was, as Moscow surely expected, later passed on to reporters.

The Soviets' senior negotiators from Geneva are said to have told the Americans Moscow would ''consider'' destroying some missiles removed from the European part of the USSR under an eventual Geneva accord.

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