Haig in Geneva: slowing but not killing a summit
The United States and the Soviet Union can be expected to lecture each other at this week's high-level meetings in Geneva.Skip to next paragraph
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Those who were hoping to see progress on arms control come out of the meetings between US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko are likely to be disappointed.
But the US decision to cut the meetings back from two days to one day does not signal an end to the prospects for an eventual superpower summit or for strategic arms-control talks. What it may signal is delay.
Administration officials say that President Reagan still believes, in principle, that a summit meeting with the Soviets could be useful, perhaps even this year.
The administration is also sticking to its position that negotiations with the Soviets over nuclear missiles in Europe should continue, barring the most exceptional circumstances - a Soviet invasion of Poland, for example. And it is still interested in getting to talks on long-range missiles but considers the time for that not yet right.
Thus, the administration's two-track, or hard-and-soft approach to the Soviets remains in place: The President is committed to arms control talks and is offering the prospect of a superpower summit meeting with the Soviets, particularly if they show restraint in Poland. But he is at the same time warning the Soviets that should the repression in Poland continue, they will be held responsible and must be prepared for further American sanctions against them.
The latter point appeared to be the main message that Haig was carrying as he prepared to leave Washington for Geneva on Jan. 24. The US does not want to dilute its lecture to Gromyko on Poland by introducing too many other topics. And it does not want to get into the topic of a date for the start of SALT talks - or Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), as this administration calls them - while an atmosphere of tension prevails over Poland.
Gromyko, for his part, is expected to defend the Soviet position on Poland and lecture Haig as to the importance of moving ahead on arms control talks. According to reports from Europe, the Soviets have just launched a new diplomatic and public relations campaign aimed at convincing anyone who will listen that the Soviet Union does not adhere to a ''war fighting'' or ''war winning'' nuclear strategy, as some American experts allege. Instead, the Soviets are stressing that in their view, nuclear war is ''unthinkable.'' In the American view, this Soviet campaign adds up to little more than propaganda.
With the outlook for these talks bleak, some observers are asking why they should be held at all? Indeed, it appears that some consideration was given to calling the talks off. But Secretary of State Haig has consistently argued that high-level channels to the Soviets must be kept open so that there is no ambiguity in Soviet minds as to US intentions. In the secretary's view, ambiguity can lead to miscalculation.
Haig also is playing to a West European audience. A US decision to make a total break in high-level talks with the Soviets might simply encourage those elements in Western Europe who are critical of Reagan's foreign policy to believe even more in American belligerency. At a time when both sides are courting the West Europeans, neither the Soviets nor the Americans want to look particulary belligerent. Thus, while both sides may lecture, they will also want to sound reasonable.
But in the Reagan administration view, it would not do to be holding extended meetings with the Soviets at a time of repression in Poland. The administration has been under strong attack from some quarters in the US for not acting more forcefully against the Soviet Union because of Poland. The critics, including most notably perhaps former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, have argued that the sanctions so far announced by the administration have been more symbolic than anything else.
On Jan. 21, nearly 50 conservative leaders met in Washington and issued a statement, which said, among other things, that President Reagan's foreign policy has been ''a continued pursuit of the illusions of detente, restrained demeanor toward our Communist opponents and cavalier treatment of our friends.''
On Jan. 22, the conservative national weekly ''Human Events'' issued a report on Secretary of State Haig entitled ''Haig Must Go.'' Calling the secretary ''the wrong man for the job,'' the weekly said that this ''combative warrior . . . has, somehow, been transformed into a pussycat. His leadership qualities are revealed more by his military bearing and outward bravado than in anything substantive he has achieved.''
''Human events'' included in its long list of charges against Haig the allegation that his reaction to the ''Soviet inspired crackdown in Poland'' was at least initially lethargic. It said that the administration, ''under Haig's baleful influence, barely let out a peep as Jaruzelski's Gestapo squads were swooping down on Solidarity and herding thousands into jail.''