US, Soviets: trying to win hearts of Europeans
Moscow is shifting the focus of its statements on a arms control in an apparent bid to keep strong public pressure on the Reagan administration even after talks resume.
For months, the Soviets have been shouting -- within deliberated earshot of President Reagan's West European allies -- that the Americans were refusing to negotiate on limiting nuclear missile forces in Europe.
But this argument -- which helped put West European leaders under pressure from domestic doves, and Mr. Reagan under pressure from West European leaders -- stands to lose much of its potency, should missile talks resume. And US officials say Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. is ready to set a date for their resumption when he meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in New York next week.
Presumably with this in mind, the Soviets have begun deemphasizing the importance of a mere renewal of negotiations. Instead, Moscow is focusing on publicly staking out an ostensibly more "peaceful" negotiating position than that of a Reagan administration portrayed as hankering for a new arms race.
In a series of official commentaries as the Haig-Gromyko meeting approaches, Moscow has energetically revived its longstanding offer to negotiate a reduction -- and &gt;Please turn to Page 6&gt; &gt;From page 1&gt; not merely a limit-in-place -- of rival missile forces in Europe.
Some diplomats here suggest that the Soviets might soon go further and announce a unilateral halt in their own fast-paced deployment of new SS-20 nuclear missiles in the European part of the USSR.
The reinvigorated Soviet offer to discuss reduction of missile arsenals has been accompanied by sharp attacks on US military policy. The official news agency Tass, for instance, quoted senior Soviet officials as having told visiting British opposition leader Michael Foot Sept. 17 at that "the American administration and the NATO leadership" were responsible for deteriorating East-West relations.
The Soviet singled out Mr. Reagan's recent go-ahead for production of the neutron weapon and, on the missile front, his firm commitment to a Carter-era NATO decision to deploy new US projectiles on West European soil beginning in 1983.
This "threat of [Western] military superiority" left the Soviets with two choices, Tass said. The first was to join a new arms race in earnest. The second, presented as the Soviets' strong preference, was to agree on "limiting and reducing" nuclear missiles in Europe.
Western diplomats here acridly dismiss such Soviet talk as propaganda. It is the Soviets, they say, who posses superiority in European missile forces. The diplomats argue that the Soviets have already deployed well over 200 of the sophisticated SS-20 missiles -- each capable of hurling three independently targeted warheads at Western Europe -- in the western USSR.
The NATO plan to deploy new US missiles is portrayed, in this context, as a mere reply to superior Soviet forces.
The Western argument is that even an eventual Soviet halt in deployment of SS-20s in the European part of the country would merely be part of a Moscow propaganda push -- in that the Soviets presumably never planned to go on adding missiles forever, and that the SS-20 is capable of reaching Western Europe even from the Asian portion of the Soviet Union.
As for the offer of missile reductions, even the Soviets make clear that this would be contongent on cancellation of the planned deployment of new US missiles in West Europe, and perhaps on cuts in current jet and submarine forces in the West European arena.
Yet whichever side's version of the facts is correct, the Soviets' refucusing public attention to the arms issue might, indeed, succeed in keeping up pressure on the US.
Western diplomats here say this is particularly tru since the plans to beef up NATO missile forces remain a very live domestic political issue in Western Europe.