Hopes for warmer ties dim with Soviet Olympic pullout
In the wake of the sudden Soviet pullout from the Olympic Games, the Reagan administration is adopting a wait-and-see attitude about prospects for preventing a further deterioration of Soviet-American relations.Skip to next paragraph
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Administration offficials say the unexpected Soviet move will not deter United States efforts to make progress on some issues. But they admit that relations have soured even further and that chances for any breakthroughs before the November election are greatly reduced.
''There never was more than 1-in-10 chance that they would engage us on the important things like arms control before the election,'' says a senior administration official. ''Now the chances are one in 100. There are no grounds to be optimistic for the rest of 1984.''
It is still not entirely clear what reasons weighed most heavily in the Soviet decision. But diplomatic and academic experts see a combination of factors behind the move:
* The Soviets have a genuine concern about security and possible defections at Los Angeles. The administration sought to meet their security needs and assured them that it did not support the Ban the Soviets Coalition that is seeking to encourage defections. But the Soviets are highly sensitive to the issue.
''We take such agitation for granted,'' a State Department analyst comments, ''but the Soviets have a different perspective, especially when you're dealing with emigres and ethnic groups. There was probably pressure from the top Soviet echelon to do something.''
* Some in the Kremlin leadership are still smarting over the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics and wanted to get back at the United States.
* The Soviets wanted to deliver a political message to the American people that US-Soviet ties are in worse shape than Washington suggests.
''There's a Soviet desire not to allow the Reagan administration to create the impression for election purposes that everything is fine,'' comments Dimitri K. Simes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ''Reagan is saying the relationship is on track now. The Soviets wanted to overdramatize the situation and indicate their displeasure.''
''The political message is probably the most important,'' says Mark Garrison, director of the Center for Foreign Policy Development at Brown University and a former diplomat. ''They figure that Americans pay more attention to sports and one way to get the message across about the low level of relations is through the Olympics.''
Administration officials express surprise at the Soviet action in light of the efforts made to meet Moscow's demands for the Olympic Games. The US agreed to allow 25 Aeroflot charter flights as an exception to the present ban on the airline, for instance. It also agreed to a month-long port call by a Soviet cruise ship which would serve as the Soviet headquarters and to let Soviet participants come in with only identity cards rather than visas. It was prepared to let the Soviets have an attache at the Games, though it declined to accept the person designated for the post, a man known to work for the KGB, the Soviet security agency. And it also informed the Soviets of ''extraordinary'' security arrangements to protect Soviet athletes and personnel.
''We met every request and demand,'' a high administration official says. Whether the Soviet withdrawal presages a further worsening of relations remains to be seen. But administration officials note that relations are nowhere near the low point they reached during the Berlin crisis of 1948 or the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
While arms control negotiations are deadlocked, the two sides have been discussing a whole range of relatively minor bilateral issues, including the establishment of consulates in Kiev and New York and a new cultural-exchange agreement. The joint Trade and Economic Council, compromising some 200 US companies and Soviet trade associations, is due to meet in New York later this month - the first such meeting since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
But there are disturbing developments. Last week the Soviets accused several US Embassy personnel by name of an anti-Soviet plot in connection with the hunger strike by dissident scientist Andrei Sakharov and the efforts of his wife to go abroad for medical treatment.
''There's been a general crackdown in the Soviet Union,'' an administration official says. ''If that means the hard-liners have won, we may be in for a downturn in our relations, which we were trying to get back to the level they were at before the shooting down of the Korean airliner.''
Some analysts suggest the Soviet Union may now feel itself on the defensive because it has made no great gains anywhere. Its major military offensive in Afghanistan may prove to be an embarrassment, the peace movement in Europe has not gotten off the ground again, the Chinese are thumbing their noses at them in Vietnam.
''The Soviet leaders have decided to hunker down,'' one State Department expert says. ''They've sent a message that they will not come begging. They've nailed themselves to the mast and they'll stay there until the election is over. We'll have to wait it out.''