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US-Soviets envision future pacts with more punch. Proposal in hand would give Gorbachev more leverage at home and abroad. Moscow, Washington, and Europe see the proposed arms pact as lubricant for improved superpower relations. Gorbachev has gained breathing room for his reform policies. Both the Soviets and the US have shown greater flexibility. And European concerns of being abandoned by the US have been largely allayed.

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If signed, an agreement on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) should give Mikhail Gorbachev a boost at home and abroad. It will provide a tangible success that has so far escaped him. It will help prove to skeptics in the leadership the feasibility of his vision of a new framework for East-West relations and security policy. And, if the INF treaty provides impetus for a series of arms reduction pacts, it will go a long way toward achieving one of Gorbachev's main aims: lowering the threshold - and with it, he hopes, the dangers and the costs - of East-West military confrontation.

Despite an improved image abroad and a more open atmosphere at home, Gorbachev has not yet been able to point to a major political success. One other prospective victory, record harvests, is gravely threatened by bad weather. His economic reforms have yet to bite, and when they do, are likely to be painful at first.

Gorbachev probably needs a substantive achievement as much as anything to convince some of the skeptics in the Soviet leadership. In his two years in power, he has proven himself a risk taker. He has staked much prestige on his proclamation of the need for an ``all embracing'' restructuring of security policy in a nuclear world. He has emphasized the need for the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weaponry.

Meanwhile Western observers speculate that some Communist Party leaders feared that the risks tied to Gorbachev's policies were too high. As one Western ambassador said: ``Some of the old guard [leaders] seem to feel that the world is too dangerous a place'' for a Soviet leader to attempt radical economic and political reform.

Two of the country's most senior leaders have voiced concern at increased threat from the West in recent speeches.


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