Soviets don't like Reagan's tone, but want the arms talks
The Soviet Union seems increasingly exasperated at what it sees as aggressive and heavy-handed treatment from the Reagan administration, but the Kremlin continues to signal serious interest in new arms talks.
Moscow is also signaling serious concern over the stubborn unrest in Poland, a crisis that could yet swallow presumed Soviet reluctance to intervene directly and thus cloud hopes for talks with the United States on arms, or anything else.
An array of senior Soviet and Polish leaders, including President Leonid Brezhnev and Polish Communist chief Stanislaw Kania, met here March 4.
A late-evening statement carried by the official Soviet news agency affirmed Soviet "confidence" that the Polish communists had the "possibilities and strength" to deal a "firm and resolute rebuff" to the "dangers" confronting Poland.
But following up similar remarks by Mr. Brezhnev at the Soviet Communist Party congress here Feb. 23, the report seemed to repeat the so-called Brezhnev doctrine, whereby Moscow and its East-bloc allies might feel called on to deliver that rebuff themselves.
"The socialist community is inseparable," the report on the Soviet-Polish talks said. "Defense of it is the cause not only of each state but also of the entire socialist coalition."
With Mr. Brezhnev at the meeting were, among others, the Soviet defense minister, the ambassador to Warsaw, and chief Soviet party ideologue Mikhail Suslov.
With one of its collective eyes clearly trained on Poland, the Kremlin is also seen as anxious to activate Mr. Brezhnev's high-profile offer of fresh negotiations with Washington.
The Soviets are not hiding their evident distaste for the public demeanor of Reagan administration officials toward Moscow.
"Washington has grown used to speaking in the language of 'diktat' with Puerto Rico and with its junior partners in blocs and alliances," the Soviet news agency Tass said late March 4 in reporting US intentions to beef up its naval strength.
"But this time, it has obviously got the wrong address."
Some European analysts here have expressed concern that, the content of Reagan administration policy toward Moscow aside, the tone may prove counterproductive.
"The Soviet Union is a superpower," said one. "It doesn't like to feel it's being dictated to, especially by men it considers relative novices."
A Soviet political analyst added: "Washington should realize that this kind of approach won't work."
But while the Reagan administration's policy toward the Kremlin takes shape, Soviet officials have seemed intent on signaling the seriousness of Mr. Brezhnev's congress proposal of a renewed dialogue, including a summit, with the new US administration.
The government newspaper Izvestia, in a front-page editorial March 2, also reiterated Mr. Brezhnev's offer to resume strategic arms limitation (SALT) talks "without delay." The article downplayed the SALT accord negotiated with former President Carter, still unratified by the US, and emphasized Soviet willingness to "go further" in the SALT process.
Western diplomats note that Mr. Brezhnev has made it clear he'll seek further US concessions in return for any US pressure for lower limits on Soviet nuclear missiles. But they say the Soviets seem genuinely willing to take a new look at the unratified SALT pact.
One possible reason for this shift, indicated in Mr. Brezhnev's congress address, is that a refueled superpower arms race would further strain the troubled Soviet economy.
In what may be a hedge against continued friction with Mr. Reagan, the Soviets are meanwhile playing up their longtime bid for a European disarmament conference as well as Mr. Brezhnev's conditional acceptance in his Feb. 23 speech of a French proposal at the current conference on detente in Madrid.
The Soviet President in effect accepted Paris's call to extend "confidence-building measures," including advance notice of military maneuvers, to the entire European portion of the Soviet Union -- in return for still unspecified extension of the West's "confidence zone."
Diplomats here say the Soviet delegation in Madrid seemed to have had no advance notice of its President's proposal, and did not immediately move to act on it with Western delegates.
But Tass reported late March 4 that the chief Soviet delegate in Madrid had now "emphasized" Mr. Brezh nev's proposal at a plenary session of the conference.