Softer words between Kremlin's hard lines
The Kremlin seems to be signaling a very modest mellowing of its tone toward the United States. The signal, if that is what it was, came Monday with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's first major review of Soviet foreign policy since the new Soviet leader, Konstan-tin Chernenko, came to office.
The Soviet Union, Mr. Gromyko said, ''stands for even and normal relations with the United States,'' provided such relations are based on ''the principles of equality and equal security, mutual respect for legitimate interests, and noninterference in each other's internal affairs.''
Both in the style of delivery and in the content, Gromyko's remarks appeared to differ markedly from his last major foreign-policy speech, made at a conference in Stockholm last month. The tough, uncompromising, anti-American rhetoric - although still present - seemed to have been played down somewhat.
Although Gromyko did not depart from known Soviet positions, his speech - made in the Byelorussian city of Minsk - did differ in tone from other recent ones. In the version released by Tass, the official Soviet news agency, there was no Soviet demand to remove new US-supplied NATO missiles from Western Europe - a familiar litany in speeches by the Soviet leadership in recent months.
Instead, Gromyko stressed that ''the USSR . . . stands for reaching agreements on the limitation and reduction of nuclear armaments in accordance with the principle of equality and equal security.''
To be sure, he had some strong words for the Reagan administration.
He blamed the United States for escalating the arms race by stationing new missiles in Europe and said the US caused the failure of Geneva negotiations aimed at limiting nuclear arms on the continent.
He said the US administration had ''done a good deal to disrupt, and, moreover, to destroy what had been achieved by its predecessors. Naturally, it is easier to destroy, to overturn agreements concluded by others. This takes no special effort. What it takes is merely a good measure of recklessness and irresponsibility.''
But, he said, the Soviet Union ''will cooperate in full measure with all the states which are prepared to contribute in practice toward lessening international tension and to create an atmosphere of trust in the world.''
His tone was somewhat softer in tone than it had been in Stockholm last month , when he accused the US of exporting ''militarism, enmity, and war psychosis'' to Western Europe along with missiles.
Gromyko also criticized US involvement in Lebanon and repeated the Soviet Union's proposal for an international conference to hammer out a political settlement in the Middle East. Moscow has long resented what it sees as US efforts to deny it a mediating role in the region. He said the US had stymied efforts at negotiations but that the Soviet proposal for a peace conference still stands.
''The Soviet Union is ready for energetic cooperation with a view to achieving a fair and lasting Mideastern settlement,'' Gromyko said.
He also said there had been some ''positive changes'' in Soviet-Chinese relations. Relations between the two communist giants have been tense for years, and both countries spend heavily keeping troop divisions clustered along their common border.
Western diplomats here in Moscow were reluctant to comment on the content of Gromyko's speech until they have had an opportunity to study the text.
The Soviet Union walked out on two sets of negotiations in Geneva late last year aimed at limiting nuclear armaments. It also refused to set a date for resumption of negotiations in Vienna on conventional forces in Europe.
In January, it agreed to resume the Vienna negotiations on March 16. But it has refused to resume either set of negotiations in Geneva, arguing that the introduction of new NATO intermediate-range nuclear missiles into Western Europe changes the nuclear balance materially.
Gromyko, however, said that ''the USSR has believed and continues to believe that talks are a necessary, indispensable matter, whether it be the Middle East, southern Africa, the area of the Caribbean, or the question of nuclear weapons and the need for their reduction.''