East-West signals

Yuri Andropov minced no words during the visit of Helmut Kohl to Moscow. He warned the West German Chancellor that stationing of the new NATO missiles in West Germany would have grave consequences, including installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe and - certainly more worrisome to the Germans - a deterioration of ties between West and East Germany. But such blunt talk was carefully combined with assurances of Soviet willingness to negotiate a deal. In other words, no doors have been slammed. The dialogue will go on.

But where will it lead? That is the question many in the West must now ask - as the United States prepares to put new nuclear missiles in Europe and as prospects fade for an agreement to stave off the deployment.

Indeed, it seems an especially difficult time to interpret the direction of East-West relations. On the face of it there is little effort to break out of the present stalemate. This naturally concerns people who worry that, if the superpowers do not move toward accommodation and peace, they risk confrontation and war. Yet it should not go unnoticed that some positive signals are emanating from Washington and Moscow. These may be ambiguous but they hold out hope that, for all the current jousting, the two sides will in the end reach some understanding:

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Consider these developments:

* From the long-stalled European security conference in Madrid come reports that the Soviet Union is prepared to compromise on the subject of human rights. If agreement on a conference document is reached in the next few weeks, this could be a step toward closer US-Soviet cooperation.

* Moscow recently relented and let a family of Pentacostalists leave the Soviet Union.

* US Secretary of State Shultz has been meeting privately with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, exploring trade, opening of consulates, human rights, and other areas of possible agreement. A Shultz memo to the President earlier this year reportedly proposed these high-level contacts, leading eventually to a summit meeting.

* Following the Pope's visit to Poland, President Reagan indicated that, if martial law is eased and conditions improve, he is prepared to lift economic sanctions. It is not yet clear what kind of arrangement is being worked out between the Roman Catholic Church and Polish authorities. But Moscow has just awarded General Jaruzelski the Order of Lenin, indicating that it is prepared to tolerate this astonishing turn of events.

* There are continuing signs that Mr. Andropov would like to resolve the Afghanistan problem, though UN-sponsored negotiations have yet to produce a breakthrough.

Perhaps too much should not be made of all this. President Reagan is, after all, gearing up for a reelection campaign and realizes he must defuse concern about war. If he wants to look the peacemaker, he must find ways to take the edge off of public criticism. The Russians, for their part, are not insensitive to his strategy. They doubtless are trying to figure out what Mr. Reagan ultimately has in mind and moving cautiously in the meantime so as not to benefit his reelection (yet probably looking for an arms deal if his reelection seems assured).

If this presents an uncertain situation, it at least does not rule out the possibility of the two parties coming to terms. Even window-dressing can grow into the genuine article once momentum is generated. No one seems ready at the moment to take the plunge for an arms agreement. No one seems to have a vision of where East-West relations should go. But even these glimmers of movement keep open the door to progress.

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