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Silence broken

THE Soviet reaction to Western press coverage of the Chernobyl accident shows that newly image-conscious Moscow can react positively, albeit woefully slowly. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's 26-minute speech televised to the Soviet people came 18 days after the nuclear power disaster.

Such an interval of silence would be unthinkable for a man in charge in the West. And it becomes even more remarkable when one considers that any public Soviet accounting, at any interval, is exceptional.

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Gorbachev's call for a nuclear test ban summit with President Reagan can be discounted as a distraction.

But the context -- a precedent for Soviet public accountability -- should be appreciated.