Vienna talks deadlock. Arms stalemate could spark publicity offensives
Any hopes of picking up here where the Reykjavik, Iceland, disarmament talks left off were dashed yesterday when United States Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze emerged from their latest round of talks expressing bewilderment about each other's motives. Neither minister had raised the subject of a summit during the talks, Mr. Shultz later told a press conference.
Without a major concession by one side or the other, nuclear-disarmament negotiations appear to be deadlocked, with both sides preparing to shift to a publicity offensive.
In extensive background briefings yesterday by senior US officials, one of them expressed the opinion that the Soviets were ``laying the foundation for a public-relations campaign to denigrate us and build up their position.''
Specific agreements here were therefore not in the Soviet interest, the official concluded.
If that is the case, the Vienna meeting has once again showed that the Soviets are much better equipped to wage a publicity campaign than in the past. They may also be hoping that the new Democrat-controlled Congress will force President Reagan to compromise over the main sticking point of arms control, his Strategic Defense Intitiative (SDI, or ``star wars'').
Shultz and Mr. Shevardnadze met for more than five hours, while US and Soviet arms control experts spent more than three hours in discussion.
Shultz told a press conference after the talks that the consultations had not achieved ``the kind of progress we would like.''
``We disagreed on everything,'' a senior administration official added.
In a statement made as he left Vienna for Moscow, Shevardnadze said that the talks left a ``bitter taste.''
``One cannot avoid the impression that our partners wish to forget Reykjavik as soon as possible,'' he told correspondents.
Each side, in fact, accused the other of retreating from the positions agreed upon in Reykjavik.
Shultz and other US officials also claimed that the Soviets seemed interested only in returning to one or two aspects of their Reykjavik talks. These were the US definition of the provisions of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the idea of restricting the testing of SDI components to a laboratory. Neither set of discussions achieved results, senior administration officials said.
Well before the talks began, the Soviets had consistently tried to play down the talks' importance. And in his airport statement as he left, Shevardnadze relegated his meetings with Shultz to brief comments at the end of his text.
The US had brought its top arms control negotiators, including Ambassador Paul Nitze; Max Kampelman, the chief US negotiator at the Geneva disarmament talks; and Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle. The Soviets, however, had included only one arms specialist of stature in their delegation, Viktor Karpov. The senior Soviet expert at Reykjavik, Sergei Akhromeyev, stayed in Moscow.
Soviet diplomats here said that Marshal Akhromeyev, chief of the general staff, was busy with the celebrations for the 59th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Reports from Moscow, however, say that Defense Minister Sergei Sokolov is in poor health; Akhromeyev would be a strong candidate for Sokolov's position should ill health force him to step down.
[Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and most of his colleagues in the Kremlin leadership were present at the celebrations, Reuters reports. At them, Politburo member Yegor Ligachev gave a speech critical of US arms control policies.]
The Soviet interests in Vienna seemed to be broader than arms control. Vienna seems to have been for them another step in the process of demonstrating a new style of diplomacy - a greater openness and apparent flexibility. They were eager to project a new image on human rights, for example, proposing a major conference in Moscow on human contacts, and treating hostile questions on human rights with unusual patience and forbearance.
US officials said they were still considering how to respond to the idea of a Moscow conference. One member of Shultz's party, however, said that the Soviets ``are going to have to pay a big up-front price to get the forum off the ground.''
Although expressing puzzlement at the Soviet behavior, some of the senior administration officials were philosophical about the talks.
``We're in a down phase now,'' said one, ``but this is not as far down as we have been in the past.''