Soviets shy of slipping into Falklands swamp

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

A Soviet spokesman says there is still time for a negotiated settlement of the Falkland Islands dispute and that Moscow strongly hopes all-out war can be averted.

The official appeared to suggest the Soviets would prefer to limit themselves to propaganda support for Argentina, a key grain supplier, and are concerned that a military conflict could bring pressure for more direct Kremlin involvement.

Replying to questions from the Monitor, Lev Tolkunov, chairman of Moscow's Novosti press agency, also:

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* Rejected the idea of a summit between Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and Ronald Reagan in June, whatever the venue, on the grounds that this would not afford enough time to prepare for ''serious talks.''

* Held out hope that current internal changes in China would eventually encourage an easing of tension between Moscow and Peking. But he termed Chinese reaction to Soviet suggestions of rapprochement ''moderately negative'' so far.

* Declared, in discussing support by some Americans for the concept of a nuclear-arms freeze, that the 1979 SALT II treaty had gone some way toward such a halt in the strategic arms race. He repeated earlier Soviet calls for the United States to ratify the SALT pact.

Mr. Tolkunov, in the hour-long interview April 27, echoed Soviet news media backing for Argentina's claim to the disputed Falklands and denounced the British military's response to the crisis as ''not justifiable'' and ''dangerous.''

''Our country is very far away from the Falkland Islands, but nonetheless, we call for a peaceful solution. And there is still a possibility'' for such an outcome.

''If the cannons really begin to speak, if the full military force of Argentina is brought into play, then to return to negotiations will be very much complicated,'' Mr. Tolkunov said.

Asked whether the Soviets would help Argentina in case of all-out war, the Novosti chief, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, seemed circumspect:

''This is a difficult question. We do not have any obligations as pertains to Argentina. We have no treaty with Argentina that would oblige the Soviet Union in such a situation.

''But.'' He paused for several seconds, then repeated: ''With all our force, we are for a negotiated settlement.''

Turning to Soviet-American relations, Mr. Tolkunov repeated Moscow's publicly expressed contention that US suggestions for an informal superpower summit during this June's UN disarmament conference could ''turn this important (UN) dialogue into an incidental one.''

Asked if a meeting would be possible elsewhere in June, for instance as a spinoff of President Reagan's scheduled visit to Western Europe, Mr. Tolkunov said the central requirement for a summit was ''time.'' He argued that ''by June , we will not have enough time to get ready for serious talks,'' and said a recent Soviet suggestion for an October summit was more realistic.

He suggested that one potential area for progress was strategic- arms limitation, and seemed to envisage a possible grafting of Moscow's bid for ratification of SALT II, to growing popular backing in the US for some kind of nuclear arms freeze.

''I would like to note that to some extent, the SALT II treaty did impose a freeze on the two countries' nuclear forces.''

He did not explicitly exclude possible changes in the SALT II pact, but made clear a preference for the US to ratify the treaty, then join the Soviets in bargaining on a further agreement to tighten arms limits.

Asked for comment on Chinese reaction to Mr. Breznev's recent call for talks to ease tension bewteen the two countries, Mr. Tolkunov said Peking's reply seemed ''moderately negative.'' The Chinese in effect declared they would judge the Soviets not just by Mr. Brezhnev's words, but by deeds.

But the Novosti chief added: ''We do not lose hope that sooner or later, other policies (in China) will prevail.'' He said the ''decisive factor'' was ''internal policies in China. Internal policies have a decisive role to play on the foreign policies of any country.

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