US Secretary of State Haig has deftly set the stage for his meeting next month with Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko.Whatever the pros and cons of Washington's policy toward the Soviet Union, the world including Moscow now knows that it has one. and it is not just the us-against-them of popular mythology. In the fullest statement on the subject so far, Mr. Haig's American Bar Association speech offered a coherent outline against which to test future US actions.
It echoed themes from other forums, such as "restraint and reciprocity" in Soviet relations being one of the four pillars of US foreign policy -- including also a reinvigoration of traditional alliances, a responsible relationship with the developing countries, and a restoration of US strength and internal economy. but Mr. Haig added an extra stress on providing incentives for Soviet good behavior, along with maintaining the military might to curb departures from it.
In the vein of his July speech on US determination to make arms control succeed, the secretary seemed to be advising Mr. Gromyko -- not to mention critics farther west -- that this administration can be reasonable. It intends to be responsive as well as resistant. It recognizes the two countries live on the same planet, have legitimate interests that are not hostile to each other.
"We must compete with the Soviet Union to protect freedom, but we must also search for cooperation to protect mankind," said Mr. Haig.
Here the echoes to back to the Carter administration, with its repeated invocations of both competition adn cooperation between the superpowers. Some version of this combination, backed by a wise and consistent US defense policy, is the key to future peaceful coexistence.
There may already be examples of this attitude in the renewed grain sales to Russia and the authorization of sales of American- made pipeline equipment. Lifting the grain embargo with no diplomatic quid pro quo was out of tune with a strong Soviet policy, but the resumption of trade in certain items represents the mutual benefits Mr. Haig sees in improved relations. There will be a perennial challenge in matching the steps toward what might be described as a new detente with the prerequisites Mr. Haig sternly demands of the Soviet Union.
The onus on Moscow is underscored by the secretary's disarming assertion that what is wanted is no more than is called for from any other country: restraint in the use of froce, respect for the independence of others, adherence to reciprocal obligations such as the Helsinki accords. Not all that much to expect from a civilized land in 1981.
What incentives does Washington offer? Mr. Haig spoke of balanced and verifiable arms control, political agreements to resolve regional conflicts, the potential benefits of greater East-West trade. He elaborated on some of these as he will surely do further when he and Mr. Gromyko meet. For all the pros and cons of US policy mentioned at the beginning, the secretary of state unquestionably offers something to go on. Will the foreign minister do the same?