Presummit maneuvers. Soviet moves aimed at creating fail-safe position
Moscow is positioning itself to gain maximum credit if this month's summit succeeds -- and minimum blame if it fails. On the one hand, it is sending out various pre-summit ``signals'' of goodwill and positive intent.
On the other, it's issuing glowering forecasts and charging the Reagan administration with attempting to shift the focus of the summit away from what Moscow sees as the central issue of nuclear arms control.
It is, some Western diplomats grudgingly concede, a carefully planned strategy. Less clear is whether it is working.
Some Western analysts here expect the announcement from the Kremlin of yet another Soviet arms control proposal in advance of the summit, perhaps involving new measures to permit verification of any new arms control agreement that might eventually be hammered out.
Perhaps the most visible move -- if it comes about -- is the reported release of Soviet human rights activist Yelena Bonner. She has been seeking permission to get medical treatment in the West for an eye ailment, and her release would be a seen as a pre-summit good-will gesture by the Soviet government. Mrs. Bonner is a human rights campaigner and the wife of Nobel Prize-winning Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
It remains to be seen whether Bonner will actually travel West, as a Soviet journalist has said she would. Guards at Bonner's apartment in Moscow said she has not been there, and is not expected. And she was not seen boarding either of the two flights from Moscow to Vienna yesterday -- despite reports from a London-based human rights group, Amnesty International, that she was expected in the Austrian capital on that day.
US State Department officials say they have assurances she will be allowed to leave, but Soviet officials will neither confirm nor deny that her release is imminent.
[Reuters reported that Moscow is ready to allow Mr. Sakharov and Jewish activist Anatoly Shcharansky to emigrate from the Soviet Union after next month's summit. The news agency quoted the West German newspaper Bild as saying their emigration would be part of ``the biggest ever spy swap between East and West.'']
Moscow is also not discouraging persistent rumors that it is engineering a rapprochement with Israel, with which it severed relations in 1967. Rumors are circulating here that the Soviets could allow immigration of tens of thousands of Jews. That would mark a major change in Kremlin policy: For the past two years, the number of Soviet Jewish 'emigr'es has been some 1,000 annually.
There are also rumblings of renewed service to Moscow by El Al, the Israeli airline.
However, Israeli officials -- as well as some Western diplomats here in Moscow -- have claimed there are no grounds for such reports.
Meanwhile, the Soviets are promoting their disarmament proposals, including a moratorium on underground nuclear tests and a 50-percent reduction in certain kinds of nuclear weapons in return for an end to research on President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
These came after Soviet vows not to negotiate with the US until it removed new medium-range missiles from Europe, and not to propose arms reductions until the US dropped SDI research. But the missiles are still in place, and the SDI research is proceeding.
One sign of Soviet intent for the summit could come soon, when the Soviet press publishes an interview held yesterday with President Reagan by four Soviet journalists. The journalists were flown directly from Moscow for the first interview with an American president in nearly 25 years.
If the interview is run in its entirety, and free of the embellishment and criticism so common in the Soviet press, it will be read as yet another positive sign.
In the meantime, the domestic press continues to berate the Reagan administration in particular, and the United States in general.
The strategy seems to be to profess the best of Soviet intentions -- and to make some seemingly constructive moves -- while at the same time insisting on the fundamentally base motives of the US and the difficulty of dealing with the Reagan administration.
But is it working?
``I think it's looking pretty ragged myself,'' says one Western diplomat of the Soviet public relations effort.
``All of their vaunted ability in the public relations field will fall flat if they don't come up with the bacon.''
``A little less propaganda and a little more serious negotiation is needed.''