Behind-the-scenes dialogue: US and Soviets state their cases

NOTE: The current attempts by Moscow to talk with Washington about space weaponry without seeming to deal with Ronald Reagan may be modestly illuminated by discussions in Leningrad in mid-June at a 27-nation United Nations regional conference on disarmament. What follows synthesizes a week of formal and informal exchanges between American and Soviet officials and nongovernmental experts.

Soviet: Europe has entered a threatening stage where a crisis could immediately escalate to a global catastrophe. It is urgent to normalize the situation.

American: We too are deeply concerned. That's why President Reagan keeps urging you back to the two Geneva negotiations you walked out on - the START talks on strategic weapons, and the INF talks on Euromissiles.

Soviet: We will resume those talks as soon as you remove the Pershing II and cruise missiles that put our vital centers under threat of attack with six minutes warning. Can't you remember how you felt in the Cuban missile crisis?

American: Reagan has said it's all negotiable. But you stalled everything with your walkouts.

Soviet: The US side is lying. There was no way to reach agreement once the NATO deployment started.

American: Why can't you understand that the US missiles were in response to your end run with new, accurate, MIRV'd, mobile SS-20s? That was the unique, destabilizing threat our NATO allies insisted we counterbalance.

Soviet: Nonsense. Our SS-20s were balanced by British and French missiles and bombers. You refuse to include those in your count, but they all look the same when they hit Moscow. The new US deployments deny us ''equal security'' - which we insist on.

American: ''Equal security'' always seems to mean your having more than everyone else.

Soviet: Why don't you Americans look at a map? We have to defend our Chinese border too. In any event, if US policy doesn't change, there is no possibility of successful negotiations.

American: You know perfectly well the West won't unilaterally take out its Euromissiles. Don't your ''objective historical conditions'' require you to be realistic?

Soviet: We can't talk to you now about INF or START.

(Pause) A new set of negotiations may begin in the future ... but we don't know how.... (Brightening) What about a comprehensive test ban? Nuclear-free zones? Joint ''no-first-use'' pledges? And of course you go on and on about wanting negotiations, but you keep dragging your feet on talks about antisatellite weapons - so far as we are concerned the most important item of all!

American: You have already tested and we haven't ... official US policy is that it can't really be verified....

Soviet: But Chernenko has said that for ambiguous situations we can explore many means of verification. That's a real policy change.

American: Well, Reagan has expressed a willingness to consider ASAT talks.

Soviet: (Dismissive wave of hand.)

American: What about confidence-building measures like strengthening the hot line?

Soviet: We can have 50 hot lines, but if the arms race continues and regional crises are not prevented, we may yet slide into war.

American: Why won't you take Ronald Reagan at his word when he says he really wants to negotiate?

Soviet: Because it's campaign rhetoric and we don't believe it. Until now, he talked about winning nuclear wars and gaining strategic superiority. He insulted us as an ''empire of evil.'' He tried to bully us and bankrupt us. He predicted the collapse of communism and consigned us to the ash heap of history.

American: You mean like the Soviets did to us for 70 years? Like Khrushchev, when he said he would ''bury'' us?

Soviet: We learned from that.

American: Maybe Reagan has changed his ''party line.'' Surely you're familiar with that phenomenon: Stalin's 1952 speech, Malenkov in 1953 renouncing the inevitability of war, Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress, etc.?

Soviet: Why couldn't Reagan have done it a year ago?

American: You mean when Andropov was around? Isn't Chernenko able to make decisions? Is it true that Gromyko and Ustinov are setting the hard line?

Soviet: Comrade Chernenko is perfectly well ... And yes, it's true ... And not everyone is comfortable with....

American: Immobilism?

Soviet: (No reply.)

American: You're going to have to face up to all this after the election. Why wait?

Soviet: If we knew how to beat Reagan don't you think we would try? ... You're right, we are going to do nothing to legitimize Reagan before the election ... No irreversible decisions will be made till then. But we see no signs in the near future of any reversal of current trends.

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