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Soviets modestly upbeat about Washington talks

Soviet officials are expressing guarded optimism about the progress of the Shultz-Shevardnadze talks. Initial United States statements ``seemed to me to signal that the US wants an agreement,'' a senior Soviet official said Wednesday. ``Now we are waiting for some sort of concrete follow-up.''

But, he continued, prospects for agreement have ``generally changed for the better.'' Both sides say they hope to conclude an accord that would scrap intermediate nuclear forces (INF) - medium- and shorter-range missiles with a range of 500 to 5,000 kilometers (310 to 3,100 miles).

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The official said that the US arms control proposals presented in Geneva Monday ``are a move towards greater realism, although a very belated one.'' A first reading of the new US draft indicated the issue of verification of medium- and shorter-range missiles was now less of a problem, he said. ``We're still in the situation where we want tougher verification measures than Washington does. But I personally think that this issue has now become simpler,'' he added.

The Soviet Union continues to be worried about the issue of Pershing 1A warheads in West Germany. But, he said, he personally believed that a compromise solution could be found, provided the US was willing to make some gesture of flexibility on the subject.

``If Washington wants to use the warheads as a pretext to rip up the agreement, they can. If not, we can work something out,'' the official concluded.

The Soviets do not appear willing to drop their demand for the dismantling of the warheads, but they do seem to be prepared to compromise on the timing of the dismantling. Reliable Soviet sources have indicated recently that Moscow might agree to a solution in which the US undertakes to dismantle the warheads some time after an INF agreement has entered in force.

Coverage of the talks in the official news media has been on the whole terse, but has tended toward optimism. The signing of an agreement to establish nuclear war risk-reduction centers was presented by the news agency Tass as proof that US-Soviet agreements are possible ``despite the complexities,'' if both sides show good will. The report also said the agreement had ``an organic link with future'' superpower agreements.

On Tuesday night, Tass sent its subscribers a Moscow-datelined commentary of this week's US arms proposals in Geneva. It said Washington's refusal to scrap the warheads on its medium- and shorter-range missiles can be described as ``a considerable step back on the way towards reaching an agreement.''

But the commentary was not in the main Soviet papers Wednesday. Instead the Communist Party daily Pravda carried a Tass analysis from Washington that did not repeat the claim that the new text was a step back.

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