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A new Geneva gambit

Now that President Reagan has formally proposed an ''interim solution'' on Euro-missiles, the Soviet Union and the United States should be able to get down to the specific nuts and bolts of an agreement. Mr. Reagan's decision to abandon his ''zero-zero option'' for the short run may be largely a bow to West European opinion. But even if it is in part a public relations exercise, even if it is designed to buy time while NATO proceeds with the deployment of Pershing IIs and cruise missiles, that does not alter the desirability of the Reagan approach. An arms control accord is sooner achievable if it does not ask for everything all at once.

It was never thought that the Russians would accept ''zero-zero'' (no intermediate-range missiles deployed by either the US or the USSR). But it is also clear that Moscow could never be brought to the bargaining table unless the United States made clear its determination to restore the nuclear balance in Europe which the Soviet Union so unwisely upset. In hindsight, the Kremlin cannot but see that it made a gross error in ever installing triple-warheaded SS-20s and aiming them at Europe. Now it must be willing to scale back or live with the upcoming NATO deployments. Mr. Reagan may regard an interim agreement as essential politically, but it can be safely assumed that he will not sign any agreement that does not enhance NATO's security.

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Perhaps Moscow itself is stalling, counting on popular unrest in West Germany to keep the new US missiles out and to divide the Atlantic community. It shouldn't. There is no doubt that the people of West Germany and other European countries will accept the missiles if it is perceived that the Soviet Union is not negotiating seriously. Moscow does, of course, have a proposal on the table - an offer to reduce its SS-20s to the number of non-NATO British and French missiles. But mixed signals have come from the Kremlin. Would it destroy some of the SS-20s? Or merely redeploy them? What is it offering?

The US, for its part, cannot but be sensitive to Soviet concerns regarding the independent British and French forces. Britain and France now are embarked on a huge buildup of their nuclear missiles that will give them many more hundreds of warheads by the middle of the next decade. True, the British and French forces do not provide a European umbrella (as Washington is wont to argue) but, from Moscow's vantage point, they cannot be discounted. Any more than the United States can ignore the possibility of Soviet redeployment of SS- 20s from the European to the Asian theater.

The point is that both sides have concerns and they ought to be talking about them. The fact that the US and Soviet negotiators in Geneva last summer actually arrived at a formula for an equitable Euromissile balance is proof that an agreement is possible - whatever the quick rejections of the formula by their respective governments. When the Geneva talks resume in May - and it is good news that the Russians have accepted the US proposal to reconvene them two weeks earlier than scheduled - it can be hoped that the parties will get on with the process of bargaining.

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