The agenda for the scheduled meeting September 25 between US Secretary of STate Edmund Muskie and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko during the UN General Assembly session must include the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the theater nuclear arms race in Europe, and the strategic nuclear arms race. These are the issues responsible for the dangerously accelarating downward slide in the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
But unless both sides change their past positions on these issues, there will be no progress. And no progress could usher in most horrendous prospects for stability and peace.
Agenda item one. -- soviet President Brezhnev said on Feb. 22 that the Soviet Union would be ready to begin the withdrawal of its troops "as soon as all forms outside interference" cease.
President Carter has called for total soviet troop withdrawal and has said that the United States "would be prepared to explore a transitional arrangement to be implemented along with the prompt withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan, for the purpose of restoring peace and tranquility to that suffering country."
But if "a transitional arragement" goes beyond guarantees against interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs and includes a demand for the end of the Marxist regime of Babrak Karmal -- and that seem to be the intention -- then Mr. Carter will have put himself in the curious position of imposing a condition on Soviet troop withdrawals.
Surely the American interest is satisfied if (a) the Soviets pull out all their troops and (b) there are agreed guarantees against outside interference (including guarantees against Soviet interference) in Afghanistan's affairs. the future of the Babrak Karmal regime can then be left to the Afghans.
Mr. Carter should drop his idea of a transitional arrangement and Mr. Brezhnev must agree to total troop withdrawal.
Agenda item two. -- Mr, Brezhnev defined the objective of negotiations about theater nuclear arms in Europe in a conciliatory speech in Berlin last Oct. 6: "We are prepared to reduce the number of medium-range nuclear delivery means deployed in western areas of the soviet Union as compared to the present level, but of course, only in the event that no addiitional medium-range nuclear means are deployed in Western Europe."
In talks with West Germany's chancellor Helmut Schmidt in July, Brezhnev dropped his preconditions for talks about these weapons. He no longer that NATO first abandon or defer its plan to deploy land-based theater missiles in Western Europe and that the US first ratify SALT II.
Brezhnev's October proposal would require NATO to abandon its plan to dplaoy land-based missiles in Western Europe, to match the new Russian multiple warhead missile, the SS20. But there is no need to match the Russians, weapon for weapon. The West already has a formidable force of seabased medium-range missiles aimed at Russia -- and missiles based at sea are invulnerable.
An agreement involving reductions by the East in return for no increases by the West would clearly be in the Western interest. If the Russians to reductions of the SS-20, as part of an agreement covering theater missiles and aircraft, then the US should agree to stop its plan to deploy land-based theater missiles.
Agenda item three. -- Quite apart from the question of Senate ratification of SALT II and the contenious issue of a limited nuclear war strategy, AMerican plans to deploy the MX missile could mean the end of the SALT process and of any nuclear restraint.
On the assumption SALT limitations continue, the MX missile would have two dramatic effects on the strategic balance. IT would diminish the theoretical vulnerability of the American land-based force to a Soviet first strike. And it would make the Soviet land-based force theoretically vulnerable to an American first strike. It is not conceivable that the Soviet Union would accept these consequences. SALT would be dead, along with any restraints on the Soviet Union.
Mr. Muskie should inform Mr. Gromyko that MX is negotiable. IF the Soviets will agree gradually to reduce and eventually to eliminate the threat to the American force through reciprocal limitations in SALT, then MX can be shelved -- and the threat to the Soviet force will be eliminated as well.
President Carter needs to restore consistence and direction to American policy toward the Soviet Union. Secretary Muskie needs to confront Foreign Minister Gromyko on the central issues, and start the process of negotiation and the search for common ground.