Soviets hoping for setbacks in US Latin America policy after Falklands

Moscow appears hopeful that US political strategy in Latin America is foundering off the shores of the Falkland Islands.

In the bargain, recent Soviet comments suggest, the regional position of Marxist Cuba and Nicaragua could improve.

As the Falklands dispute was escalating, the Kremlin was mounting an elaborate welcome for Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, who is in Moscow for talks.

In the South Atlantic dispute, the Soviets have been making a show of noninvolvement. But the official news media have kept up a running commentary suggesting that Moscow sees important potential setbacks for Reagan administration strategy in Latin America.

Washington has long been alleging that the Soviets, along with Cuba and Nicaragua, pose a serious political and military threat to the region. The evident suspicion among Soviet officials is that the United States, by siding openly with Britain against Argentina in the Falkland conflict, has diluted the effectiveness of such a sales pitch.

A recent commentary from the Soviet news agency Tass, planted amid Tass reports of Latin American opposition to the US stand, spoke of a ''US-backed British aggression against Argentina.''

This, it said, ''demonstrates . . . whence comes the true threat to sovereign states (in Latin America) . . . rather than the threat invented in Western propaganda centers.''

''It is common knowledge that no one except US imperialism poses a threat, . . .'' Tass said. ''But now there has emerged a situation in which one of the Latin American states, Argentina, is indeed threatened.

''The American 'friend' has not only 'forgotten' the inter-American assistance treaty . . . but has openly stated its support for London.''

In Cuba, a government official was quoted May 6 as telling foreign reporters that ''not even'' US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. ''can blame the Cubans for what is happening'' around the Falklands.

Another Cuban official reportedly said: ''The Argentinian military junta will not be in a position (after the war) to resume its military aid to anti-Nicaraguan forces in Honduras.''

Foreign diplomats in Moscow point out that the long-term political effects of the Falkland crisis are hard to foresee with certainty, and that much will depend on how and when the dispute is resolved.

Meanwhile, the Soviets' current policy priority seems to be to make appropriate propaganda noises, yet avoid direct involvement in the conflict. The Soviet leadership has carefully avoided endorsing Argentina's April 2 invasion of the islands.

Although not breaking the Soviets' domestic media silence on their abstention on a United Nations Security Council call for Argentine withdrawal, one Tass report from Mexico noted: ''It is pointed out here that the Soviet Union, from the very start of the conflict, has consistently favored, including in the Security Council, resolving all contentious issues through negotiations.''

In what diplomats saw as a sign of Kremlin hopes that the crisis will set back US Latin American policy, Soviet President Brezhnev has focused his Falkland comments less on criticizing Britain than on targeting US ''imperialism'' in the region.

Although the official media's lavish coverage of the visit has suggested a strong Soviet desire to demonstrate closer political relations with the Nicaraguans, Mr. Brezhnev also used the occasion to endorse moves by both Nicaragua and Cuba to negotiate an easing of tensions with the United States.

Moves toward such a rapprochement, Mr. Brezhnev said, would be ''in accord with the goals of our policy.''

Some diplomats here saw the Brezhnev statement as reflecting possible Kremlin uneasiness over the continued drain of subsidies to Cuba, at a time when the Soviets face economic problems of their own.

Diplomats also maintained that, given the timing of the latest Brezhnev remarks, the Kremlin might be seeking to demonstrate political restraint amid complications in US policy in Latin America.

An open question surrounding the Ortega visit is the extent to which the Soviets have committed themselves to more economic backing for Nicaragua.

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