Soviets see summit hopes. Reagan's UN speech hints that superpowers can reach arms accord, commentator says
Though they refuse to describe President Reagan's UN speech as positive, Soviet officials do seem to have found some promising hints in it -- hints that appear to make a summit more likely. In an interview yesterday, a Soviet military commentator saw no significant shift in United States policy in Mr. Reagan's remarks Monday on the Strategic Defensive Initiative and on the issue of a nuclear test ban. But Col. Vladimir Chernishev said that the President's comments on medium-range nuclear missiles were ``in general probably both new and positive.''
``To be more exact they can be called a positive change in US policy,'' added Colonel Chernishev, a military analyst for the official news agency Tass.
Reagan said that the US favors global elimination of intermediate-range (or medium-range) nuclear forces and that it was prepared to join the Soviet Union in reaching ``an interim agreement without delay.''
``One cannot say outright that one is optimistic after reading the speech,'' Chernishev said. But ``the tone was restrained. Though it did contain attacks on the Soviet Union, they were much less than usual.''
In an indication that Moscow would still like a summit, Chernishev said that ``pure logic'' led him to assume that the Soviet leader's latest letter to Reagan -- delivered last Friday by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze -- contained new arms proposals. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said that the arms control ball was now in the US court.
Chernishev said the main sticking point on a medium-range missile agreement was Washington's proposal for the destruction of Soviet rockets in Asia.
``All the US needs to do is drop the Asian part of its demand, and the question would be down to working out numbers,'' Chernishev said.
Chernishev hinted that movement on the medium-range missiles might be enough to open the way to a summit. Mr. Gorbachev has stressed that any Soviet-US summit should hold out the possibility of forward movement in the resolution of ``one or two substantive problems of international security.'' The missile issue could certainly be considered to be one such issue, Chernishev said.
In his UN speech, Reagan said the US and the Soviet Union could ``in the near future'' take two steps toward limiting nuclear testing by signing two 1974 accords: the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty.
Chernishev said that Reagan's remarks contained some ``new points,'' but the Soviet remained dubious that the US was willing to move toward a nuclear test ban. ``They have too many weapons programs under way, and they need the tests for these.''
On the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or ``star wars'') Reagan promised that the US would limit itself to research, development, and testing through 1991. Chernishev said this statement simply confirmed leaks in the US press from Washington, but that the statement itself was illusory; Washington would be in no position to deploy SDI before then anyway. Reagan's suggestion of a joint agreement on SDI was simply an effort to induce Moscow to ``legitimize'' the program, the Soviet added. As long as the US pursued SDI, it should not expect any Soviet compromise on strategic offensive weapons.
``It is absolutely unrealistic to think that the Soviet Union will ever reduce its strategic offensive weapons under the threat of deployment of SDI,'' Chernishev said. An improvement of these weapons, he added, was one possible way for the Soviet Union to respond to the ``star wars'' program.
But Chernishev found another ``positive sign'' for US-Soviet relations: the agreement signed in Stockholm Monday on ways of reducing the risk of accidental war in Europe. The positive sign was the fact that both sides had eventually been willing to make compromises. The Stockholm agreement could have a beneficial effect on the preparatory session for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe that opened in Vienna yesterday.
Chernishev's remarks, though guarded and qualified, are distinctly more optimistic sounding than the few editorial comments that have so far appeared in the Soviet press.
An analysis put out by his own agency Monday evening described Reagan's speech as an effort to cling to ``outdated forms of political thinking'' and spoke of the US's ``destructive foreign policy.''
Moreover, official commentators, Chernishev included, continue to express doubt that the Reagan administration is really interested in improved relations with Moscow.