Soviets seem to be girding for real arms control talks
The Bonn visit by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev on the eve of American-Soviet arms control talks has set the following stage for the Nov. 30 talks:
* The Soviet Union has rejected President Reagan's offer of a nuclear ''zero option.'' It has instead advanced again its own ''moratorium'' offer.
* The West German government is determined to proceed with the planned NATO nuclear deployments two years hence, if no arms control is agreed on in the American-Soviet negotiations. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has made this determination crystal clear to the Russians.
* The Kremlin, while continuing its propaganda pitch to Western European public opinion, seems to be gearing up for real negotiations on arms control.
During his Nov. 22-25 visit to Bonn, Brezhnev made explicit the previously implicit Soviet rejection of Reagan's ''zero option.'' Under this one-week-old American offer, NATO would waive its planned deployments of two new nuclear missiles (the cruise and Pershing II) in the mid-80s if the Soviet Union would dismantle its already deployed equivalent weapons (the new 5,000-kilometer range SS-20s and the old 4100-km. range SS-5s and 1900-km. range SS-4s).
In rejecting the zero option, Brezhnev dusted off the old October 1979 and February 1981 Soviet offers of a ''moratorium''. The Soviet Union would cease to deploy new SS-20s if NATO would refrain from (1979) or cancel (1981) its planned deployments of 2500-km. range cruises and 1667-km. range Pershing IIs.
As an additional sweetener Brezhnev offered, if the West accepted the moratorium, to reduce deployments of nuclear weapons in the European part of the Soviet Union. (It was unclear if such reductions would mean dismantling of weapons or just transporting them east of the Urals, where they could still hit Europe. It was also unclear if the Soviet concept of a moratorium included a stop to production as well as new deployment.)
As an additional threat, Soviet information and propaganda chief Leonid Zamiatin noted that if the West failed to accept a moratorium for the duration of the US-Soviet negotiations, the Soviet Union could just go on deploying one new SS-20 every week. (Western diplomats discount the threat, since they say the Russians are close to having finished their SS-20 program and already have everything worthwhile targeted two or three times anyway).
In his turn, Schmidt rejected the latest version of a moratorium, as the West has rejected all previous versions. In the West's view, a moratorium would simply freeze the present Soviet superiority in land-based continental-range nuclear weapons in Europe.
On his Bonn visit Brezhnev again argued that there is no Soviet superiority but rather an existing East-West parity. He again offered no itemized numbers to support his claim.
Despite the continuing impasse in Soviet and Western positions on European arms control, there are some signs that Moscow is preparing to negotiate and not just rely on European grass-roots antinuclear movements to block the new NATO missiles. German participants in the delegation talks during Brezhnev's visit report that the Soviet side was businesslike rather than hectoring in the talks. And Brezhnev aroused some interest in saying that Moscow could go for substantial nuclear cuts (beyond just putting a ceiling on existing weapons.)
Furthermore - despite reflex public polemics by propagandist Zamiatin about Western submarine missiles that can hit the Soviet Union - the Russians have dropped in official talks the issue of American strategic subs assigned to NATO. They first omitted this issue in representations to the West German government last summer, and these weapons have been excluded in various Soviet tallies of East-West nuclear inventories since then. (The American submarines are already controlled under strategic arms agreements; and if the 400 Poseidon warheads assigned to Europe were to be double counted in any new European-theater agreement, then the 500-600 Soviet strategic submarine warheads that could hit Western Europe would also have to be double counted.)
In the Brezhnev-Schmidt talks, the Russians also dropped the hint that they would be willing to negotiate in (unspecified) ''stages.'' Up until now the Russians have insisted that all nuclear weapons - including what they call American ''forward-based systems'' - be negotiated together. This would doom the talks because of the complexity of reaching equitable balances of highly mobile, dual-purpose aircraft and ships. The West wants to confine the first stage of the talks to the most threatening weapons, the land-based missiles.