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Soviets make new move on nuclear arms negotiations

Moscow takes an ever bleaker view on European nuclear talks, rejects the current United States' stand, but has not utterly written off chances for an eleventh-hour compromise.

This view, expressed in an interview here by a senior Soviet official, coincides with a revised Soviet missile offer made by Kremlin leader Yuri Andropov late Tuesday.

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Only hours after the senior official said that it would be wrong to rule out possible further change in the Soviet position as part of a Geneva arms control accord, the Soviet news agency Tass quoted Mr.Andropov as having announced an amended proposal offering ''equality of nuclear warheads'' in European-based forces.

Previously the Soviets had called for mere equality of launchers. Each of the Soviets' SS-20 nuclear missiles, seen by Western officials as the most threatening weapon in the Kremlin's medium-range European arsenal, carries three warheads.

The new proposal still does not meet Western objections to the Soviets' means of tallying current forces. Nor does it take account of Western concern that Moscow will simply move missiles eastward rather than scrap them to meet treaty limits.

But the revised Andropov proposal does seem to offer a greater Soviet missile cutback than earlier envisaged. Western diplomats said initial calculations using Soviet figures suggested Moscow would now be ready to settle for slightly under 100 - rather than 162 - of its SS-20 missiles in the European part of the Soviet Union. They said they would be watching for possible further clarification of the Andropov remarks, which came in a banquet speech for the visiting Communist Party chief of East Germany.

In his earlier comments to the Monitor, the ranking Soviet official said the central negotiating problem as viewed by Moscow ''is that the US seems interested only in deployment'' of new missiles in Western Europe starting late this year ''and isn't interested in anything (at the arms-talks table) that might interfere with this.'' And if Washington has said its final word at the missile talks, he says, there is indeed no chance of accord.

In an hourlong interview, the official also:

* Expressed concern Israel could decide to move against Syria, although ''logic suggests no one needs such a conflict . . . not the Israelis, not the Americans, certainly not the Syrians.''

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* Said it was possible that recent Sino-Vietnamese border unrest could adversely affect moves toward normalized Soviet-Chinese ties, but that such linkage would be on Chinese initiative. ''We see no direct connection.''

The remarks from the official, who has proven reliable on Moscow arms thinking, came amid increasingly pessimistic statements on the missile talks from party leader Andropov on down.

Some official commentators have suggested US insistence on any new missile deployment would rule out compromise, since Moscow will refuse to ''bless'' such a ''threat'' by treaty. Various Western ambassadors here thus argue Moscow has given up hope for a palatable negotiated compromise and has reconciled itself to deployment of new US rockets.

Yet a Western diplomat specializing in arms issues, when asked to comment on the Soviet official's remarks to the Monitor, said, ''I personally feel his characterization of the Soviets' thinking rings true - truer than some of the public hints that the Soviets have, with the clock ticking down until the scheduled start of deployment (of the new US missiles) at year's end, simply decided to sit on their hands and accept that deployment is a given . . . that the talks are irrelevant.''

The latest Reagan proposal would limit the number of new US missiles in a swap for a partial cutback in the existing Soviet force of similar weapons.

The Soviet official, interviewed May 3, repeated Kremlin objections to the US stand: that it does not take account of separate British and French nuclear missile forces, and would scratch Soviet rockets not only in Europe, but also in the Asian part of the country.

But he in effect cautioned against oversimplified readings of superpower politics:

''One shouldn't talk in terms of absolutes (on the missile issue). . . . Politics is a search for compromise. We will talk to Reagan till the very last moment.

''The thing is that, at present, no real prospects for agreement are visible, '' he said, adding that the Reagan administration's latest proposal ''did not improve this situation.

''Still, I repeat, it is hard to conceive of an absolute 'yes' or 'no' in this process. . . . We shall go on the assumption that compromise is conceivable.''

He declined to go into detail, but suggested no particular formula could be ruled out at this stage, even one involving some partial US deployment for partial Soviet cutbacks.

''Maybe,'' he added - stressing this was not a serious proposal, but meant partly to convey the ''strategic'' threat of new US Euromissiles to the Soviets - ''you could put two missiles in West Germany, and we'll put two in Guatemala.''

On the Mideast, the official echoed Arab media charges - but with decidedly more nuance - that Israel might be contemplating a military move against Kremlin-allied Syria.

''Speaking on the basis of reason and logic, this (charge) would seem impossible to believe. The US doesn't need this (kind of conflict). . . . On the basis of logic, again, Israel wouldn't seem to, either.''

But he alleged US Mideast policy, and particularly Israeli policy, ''have not been lending themselves to rational analysis. It follows that one can expect anything. It is absolutely conceivable the US doesn't want a war, but that it could happen anyway,'' he added. ''The Americans have always shown an unwillingness to say 'no' to the Israelis.''

Asked whether Syria might be seeking a conflict, given recent Soviet arms deliveries to Damascus, he replied emphatically: ''No. They (the Syrians) absolutely don't need this.''

Asked to comment on recent Sino-Vietnamese border unrest, the official said: ''This may, of course, affect Soviet-Chinese relations. . . . But this would be on the Chinese side, not ours.

''It is the Chinese side that links normalizing relations to the situation in Indochina. From our point of view there is no direct connection. . . . And the situation on the Sino-Vietnamese border should not affect Soviet-Chinese relations.''

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