In an abrupt change of tone, a senior Soviet official said yesterday that the offer by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to scrap Bonn's Pershing 1A missiles had not brought any progress at the Geneva disarmament talks. The official, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, complained at the lack of clarity of the Kohl statement, and said that the 72 Pershing warheads would have to be included in the Geneva talks. He also cast doubt on United States commitment to achieving an agreement on intermediate nuclear forces (INF).
Mr. Bessmertnykh's statement seemed to reflect deep Soviet irritation at Washington's failure to provide any assurances that the warheads would be removed from West Germany. Moscow appears now to be pushing either for Washington to promise this or for Bonn to demand such an undertaking from the US.
His comments were at sharp variance with the welcome that Soviet officials gave Dr. Kohl's statement last week. Last Wednesday, Kohl announced that Bonn would scrap its Pershing missiles if the US and Soviet Union concluded a verifiable treaty eliminating intermediate nuclear forces - medium- and shorter-range missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,300 miles).
The step was initially welcomed by the Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman. Another Soviet official described Kohl's conditions as a face-saving device that did not detract from the positive nature of the gesture.
Yesterday, however, Bessmertnykh complained that the Kohl statement ``lacked clarity on the main point: The fate of the American warheads for the 72 West German shorter-range missiles.'' The failure of both Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to explain how the warheads issue would be solved could have serious consequences, Bessmertnykh said. It could be used by opponents of an agreement to slow down or prevent a treaty.
``I have to say that position at the Geneva negotiations has not changed for the better since the statement of the West German chancellor, despite the serious efforts of the Soviet side to move the talks along,'' Bessmertnykh told a press briefing yesterday.
The US line up to now has been that Kohl's statement should have answered Soviet concerns. Raising further ``fine points'' at this stage in the talks could raise questions in Washington about Moscow's intentions, a Western diplomat commented yesterday.
The issue of Pershing 1As, an aged and nearly obsolete shorter-range missile with a range of 720 km, had dogged the Geneva negotiations since April, when superpower talks suddenly shifted to discussion of a so-called double-zero option - the elimination of both medium-range rockets and shorter-range missiles.
The Pershing launchers are controlled by the West Germans, and the nuclear warheads by the United States.
US officials maintain that such weapons do not fall under the jurisdiction of US-Soviet talks.
Moscow says that the warheads, which are US property, must be included in a double-zero agreement.
Kohl's statement had made it clear that the warheads were at the sole disposal of the US, Bessmertnykh said.
The warheads should therefore become part of the Geneva negotiations and of any final agreement. Without them there could not be a ``full-blooded'' double-zero agreement.
``It would be strange to make an exception [for the Pershing warheads] when the Soviet side is obliged to fully destroy its medium- and short-range missiles, their launchers and warheads,'' the deputy foreign minister said.