Moscow — In his closing news conference in Geneva Thursday, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gave the cue on how the official Soviet news media will play the summit. Mr. Gorbachev said the stage was set for an improvement in superpower relations but made clear that President Reagan's `` `star wars' defense program remains, in the Soviet view, the fundamental obstacle to arms control agreements.''
In the months before the summit, the Soviet press launched fierce daily attacks on Mr. Reagan's program of research into space-based defense, the Strategic Defense Initiative.
The Geneva meeting underlined that American and Soviet opinions on the issue are still far apart.
Even though Western diplomats in Moscow were saying before the summit that the Soviet media campaign masked the Kremlin's readiness to negotiate on SDI, a return to the familiar press attacks is the most likely outcome on this issue.
The Soviet media observed the news blackout imposed by the United States and Soviet delegations for the duration of the summit.
Diplomats predict that the official media, while following Gorbachev in picking out what was positive in the summit, will waste little time in arguing that further progress on SDI depends on deeds, not just words, from the US.
For Soviet people, the first real light to be shed on the summit came on Thursday morning, when television broadcast statements made by the two leaders in Geneva. Western diplomats and Moscow residents said they believed it was the first time Reagan had been shown live on Soviet television.
In contrast to the editing that was applied to sensitive passages in Reagan's print interview with four Soviet journalists before the summit, the President's remarks this time were clearly audible in English with a simultaneous Russian translation. Reagan made Page One
Footage of Reagan and Gorbachev together also appeared on Soviet television Tuesday and Wednesday nights. And on Wednesday, the Communist Party daily Pravda published a photograph of Reagan on Page One -- the first front-page photograph of an American President in a Soviet newspaper in years.
Television also broadcast Gorbachev's 90-minute news conference in Geneva live on Thursday afternoon, offering another chance for Soviet viewers to take pride in their leader's ability to convey an impression of authority and vigor before the world's press.
Some Soviet office workers noticed that the questioning of Gorbachev in Geneva seemed less awkward than that which he faced in Paris in October after his talks with President Franois Mitterrand or during his earlier interview by French television in Moscow.
During the summit news blackout, Soviet newspapers carried color accounts of the setting at Geneva, but hard information was limited to brief official communiqu'es that merely listed participants in the talks. Pravda's Thursday edition even relegated the summit to the bottom half of its front page, giving greater prominence to a story about Soviet collective farms.