Moscow tries to shift spotlight from Flight 7
The Kremlin is moving to redirect world attention from the Korean Air Lines disaster to the stymied European arms talks in Geneva. Amid remarks from officials suggesting that the airline issue is being deliberately used by the Americans to devalue the negotiations, the Soviets announced Tuesday a news conference on arms issues by two ranking officials.
The conference is set for today, and is expected to be held by Georgi Korninenko, a first deputy foreign minister, and Sergei Akhromeyev, first deputy chief of staff of the Soviet military.
The Geneva talks are in effect running against time: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is committed to start basing new United States missiles in Western Europe at the end of the year if the talks produce no palatable compromise before then.
Soviet officials, though declining to go into great detail about Wednesday's news conference, implied it was unlikely a new Soviet negotiating initiative would be announced.
Instead, the officials suggested Tuesday, the aim would be to emphasize and expound upon the most recent Soviet move - the announcement last month by Soviet leader Yuri Andropov that Moscow would scrap, not just reposition, any of its modern SS-20 rockets limited by an eventual accord.
The Soviets have deployed several of the easily mobile SS-20s, each with three warheads, since the late 1970s. NATO says the planned deployment of new American rockets is in response to them.
Moscow, for its part, is willing to reduce the number of SS-20s, retaining some 150 of them to balance the existing missile forces of Britain and France.
The British and French forces are currently the main bone of contention in the Geneva talks: NATO says these 162 missiles should not be counted in the present negotiating process, since they are independently controlled by Paris and London and, in any case, far less powerful than SS-20s.
The press conference follows a report from the West German foreign minister, after a recent meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, that British and French forces might be counted in the parallel strategic arms talks, rather than in the European missile negotiations.
A Soviet arms control expert has similarly hinted in recent private comments to the Monitor, saying: ''The main imperative is that these weapons be counted, '' rather than in precisely what forum.
But the official stopped short of saying this meant Moscow was ready to shift the issue to the strategic arms table, adding that the Americans had not even accepted the principle of counting the British and French arms.
And although the Soviet official said Moscow had not reached an immutable decision that the British and French forces must be counted in the European arms talks, he did say the Americans could ''not dictate to us which of our particular systems should balance the British and French.''
Obviously, he added, Moscow currently has chosen the SS-20s, which are ''intended for defense in case of a conflict in Europe. Britain and France are European powers.''
US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt, meanwhile, said Monday the US had received no indications from the Soviet Union similar to the hints reported by the West German foreign minister.
Various Soviet officials have made clear to reporters here in recent days that one of Moscow's prime concerns over the Korean Air Lines crisis is that the issue will ease pressure on the Americans at the Geneva negotiating table.
As the Soviets phrase the problem, President Reagan seems to have ''seized'' the airliner issue as a ''pretext'' for resisting any compromise on the Euromissile question.
In the domestic Soviet media, meanwhile, similar commentaries have been paired with assurances that the Soviet position on the airline disaster is gaining wider world support.
The Kremlin position is that the Boeing 747 was, in fact, being used by the Americans for a spy mission over sensitive military areas in the Soviet Far East and that the Soviets, thus, had no choice but to shoot it down.