Soviet foreign policy focuses on test ban. Moscow sees its halt to nuclear weapons tests as a litmus test for the good intentions of the US. But American officials don't think it's that simple.
The Soviet demand for a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, followed by a treaty banning such tests, has emerged as the centerpiece of Kremlin foreign policy. The nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the Soviet Ukraine probably did not do any permanent harm to East-West relations. But neither did it help to foster them. Nor did it promote solution of the vexing problems still dividing the two sides.
There is still no firm commitment on a US-Soviet summit. [East-bloc sources say summit will take place this fall. Story, Page 11.] The Soviets, although hinting at a desire to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, are bogged down in a guerrilla war that seems to have escalated in recent weeks. And neither the United States nor the Soviet Union report significant progress on the key problem of nuclear arms control.
The US refusal to go along with the Soviet demand for a nuclear test ban, which the Soviets have unilaterally extended to Aug. 6, seems to have further soured relations. Continuing US opposition to a test ban seems to be more of an irritant than other recent developments have been, including the US bombing of Libya, a Soviet ally, or the uproar in the West over Chernobyl.
``My impression is that the Americans are upset about a threefold or fivefold increase in [background] radiation, but they're willing to run the risk of nuclear war,'' said Vladimir Bogachev, a writer for the Soviet news agency Tass, in an interview.
A high-level group of private US citizens heard a similar message from Soviet officials last week during a week-long meeting in Baku, the capital of Soviet Azerbaijan.
According to the Soviet participants, which included a number of senior figures in the Communist Party and Foreign Ministry, the present US administration is by far more intractable than any of its recent predecessors.
``Political will is needed'' to overcome the present stalemate, says Kremlin spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko. ``Washington,'' he says, ``lacks the political will.''
In the Soviet view, an agreement to halt nuclear weapons tests would halt nuclear arms competition between the superpowers and improve prospects for future political relations.
Mr. Lomeiko says a test moratorium would provide a ``firm basis'' for a summit meeting in the US. So far, the Soviet Union has not replied to a US invitation to a summit in June between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, claiming it must produce ``concrete'' results.