The next goal: summit '86. Summer meeting scheduled for superpowers puts pressure on them to realize progress on key issue of arms control
Now there is a new deadline. Even as President Reagan basks in the glow of a personal triumph at the superpower summit, pressures will begin for the United States and the Soviet Union to produce concrete progress in time for the summit meeting in June 1986.
It is widely agreed that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev returned to Moscow able to tell his Politburo that he established a working relationship with the American President, was treated with respect, and managed to reduce the level of tension in US-Soviet relations. But, having obtained nothing on the basic issue of arms control, he will be looking in the seven months ahead for a give in the US position that did not emerge in Geneva -- at least publicly.
Two questions follow:
What will Moscow do to bring the President to a point of compromise?
Now that he has strengthened his position politically with a successful summit, is Mr. Reagan prepared to negotiate some compromise on ``star wars'' in order to achieve an agreement on deep reductions in offensive nuclear weapons?
The Soviet general secretary has made clear that Moscow will not retreat from its demand that the socalled Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) be curbed. Mr. Reagan is equally adamant he will not compromise on it, although publicly he has talked of pursuing ``research'' and conspicuously avoided the term ``development.''
It is possible progress will eventually be made on an agreement on intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, now that the Soviets have agreed to separate out this question. But it is the larger issue of strategic arms that remains the key to firmly establishing the stable, predictable relationship the two leaders hope to foster as a result of the Geneva summit. In this crucial area Mr. Gorbachev did not come away with anything.
``From their standpoint the Russians got little, and that has to be thought about,'' says Soviet expert William Hyland, editor of ForeignSUMMITSUMMIT Affairs magazine. ``The next months become critical. Reagan's bargaining chips are all intact. The question is, will he move?''
Diplomatic and arms experts suggest that Mr. Gorbachev bought the ``atmospherics game'' because there was no other game in town. They expect that the Soviet strategy now will be to play up a posture of being reasonable and making a good-faith effort to come to terms with Washington -- thus helping build congressional and European pressure on the administration -- and see where this leads. If down the road it still proves impossible to strike a deal with Washington, the Soviets will be in a position to p eddle the ``we-have-gone-the-last-mile'' line and begin taking steps to rectify the perceived erosion in their strategic position, such as adding more warheads to their offensive arsenal.
``The Soviets have in effect extended the deadline,'' says Mark Garrison, director of Brown University's Center for Foreign Policy Development. ``They may hope they have planted some seeds and that Gorbachev was able to get across to Reagan what their basic objections to the US position are. By the '86 summit they surely will have to have some kind of agreed statement on the basic guidelines of an agreement.''
Some arms specialists say the onus is on Gorbachev to put down an offer on offensive weapons in the Geneva arms talks which the President cannot refuse, thereby forcing his hand on SDI. John Steinbruner, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, suggests such an offer could include a trade-off of the Soviet heavy SS-18 missiles and the American MX missile.
``Reagan is in a comfortable position now, having made no compromises,'' says Dr. Steinbruner. ``So Gorbachev has to figure out how to make him make a decision.''
What is difficult to determine here is the degree of influence of administration hard-liners, above all Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and his aide Richard N. Perle. Some analysts think they won the latest skirmish, because the summit did not produce a specific extension of the unratified SALT II accord, a reaffirmation of the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) treaty, or guidelines to govern a strategic arms agreement -- all of which Moscow had sought in the months leading up to the summit and which moderate forces in the bureaucracy also favored.
The fact that the President did not repudiate Mr. Weinberger when a letter from him to Mr. Reagan, urging a tough line in Geneva, was leaked to the press on the eve of the summit is seen as a reflection of the clout which the internal ``hawks'' still wield.
Dimitri Simes, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says it is important that the two leaders met for the first time and established a constructive dialogue. It was also important, he says, that both fulfilled their agenda, handling themselves well and looking like winners to their domestic constituents.
But, he says, it is arms control which is important in the long term, serving as an essential shock absorber in the US-Soviet relationship. The Defense Department, he feels, outmaneuvered Secretary of State George P. Shultz and arms control adviser Paul H. Nitze, who before the summit had indicated that the prospects for some arms guidelines were hopeful.
``It worries me that there were several quick fixes -- such as extending SALT II and reaffirming ABM -- and the administration once again was not able to agree on them,'' says Mr. Simes. ``There are ideological purists in the administration who believe any agreement with the Soviets is dealing with the devil and they scored a point.''
With Soviet-American relations having bottomed out and now presumed to be on a trek upward, it is hoped here that undue euphoria does not set in to exaggerate expectations of what can be achieved. But President Reagan, having yielded nothing and having spoken candidly and toughly with Gorbachev, is viewed to be in a good position to achieve something meaningful in arms control.