Detente survives at arms talks

Improbable as it might seem reading each side's newspapers, detente is struggling on, it seems, at least here in the force reduction talks between seven NATO (including the United States) and four Warsaw Pact (including Russia) countries.

The resumption of talks seemed to confirm that the Russians are keenly interested in keeping arms control going as a negotiating issue no matter what has befallen detente in other fields.

The two sides met Thursday, Jan. 31, in their 20th round, and thus far it has been a pointless draw. After Thursday's session neither side showed any inclination to depart from its latest stated positions.

NATO is standing on its December proposals for a first withdrawal stage for the Americans (13,000 men) and the Russians (30,000). The difference arises from Western conviction that the Warsaw Pact has more men in the reduction area than it says.

The Warsaw Pact professes not to "reject" the plan, although it calls it unrealistic and unacceptable. It might conceivably accept something like it if the West included arms in stage one; followed by firm, mutual undertakings on both sides for other measures such as on-site verification controls.

The stalemate is destined to continue for an unforeseeable time. The interesting thing about Thursday's resumption is that it took place at all.

To set the tone for their side, the East group chose their most persuasive and effective delegation leader, English-speaking Polish Ambassador Tadeusz Strulak.

He admitted that negotiations resumed in a "particularly complicated" world situation, but he did not mention Afghanistan until reporters raised it.

Then he asserted there was "no connection" between Afghanistan and the troop talks -- except in those Western circles interested in reversing detente.

The Warsaw Pact's "soft" speech seems to confirm suggestions that the Kremlin may now concentrate on presenting a more reasonable face to Western europe in an effort to sidestep its deep differences with the US.

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