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The big-power struggle for Europe intensifies

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The superpower battle between Washington and Moscow for West European opinion has reached a new level of intensity. Early in the week Moscow moved swiftly to counter President Reagan's bid to bolster his arms negotiating credibility within the Western alliance. The Soviets did so in the form of a prompt, carefully worded rejection of Mr. Reagan's proposal Monday for a summit to endorse an American blueprint for reducing European nuclear missiles.

On Wednesday the United States moved again, hinting at the possibility of eventual compromise on its blueprint. The hint came from Vice-President George Bush, who said during a visit to the Netherlands that Washington would carefully weigh any serious Soviet alternative to the US stand.

Soviet leader Yuri Andropov's rejection of Mr. Reagan's summit terms was less surprising for its content than for the speed, uncommonly quick by past Kremlin standards, with which it was announced.

The reply - which was printed in the Communist Party daily Pravda Wednesday but had been released by the Soviet news agency Tass late Tuesday - came less than 24 hours after the Reagan proposal was announced by Vice-President Bush, who is touring Western Europe.

In content, the Andropov statement turned down US terms for a

summit as a bid to force agreement to a US arms-negotiating stand, rejected here from the start as ''unequal.'' But the reply also endorsed the principlem of a summit and was phrased in generally restrained terms designed to avoid creating the impression of Kremlin intransigence.

Moscow sees the current European tour by Mr. Bush as part of a US bid to take the public initiative in superpower arms talks, and to shore up allied support for plans to deploy new US missiles if ongoing negotiations don't produce an acceptable arms-reduction accord.

The Soviets have moved publicly to cast the US as an inflexible foil for a more reasonable Soviet negotiating team at the current Geneva talks on limiting medium-range missiles in the European theater. In so doing, Moscow has sought to encourage both stirrings in Western Europe for amendment of the US negotiating stand and popular opposition there to deployment of the new US missiles.


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