Washington — A month ago the world paused to watch the drama of the first superpower summit in six years. Now Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev are preoccupied with domestic concerns, officials in Washington are recovering from bureaucrat's exhaustion, and a period of hiatus has set in before the two sides gear up for the second round of summitry next year.
While waiting for the season's festivities to end, the Soviet Union and the United States are keeping their relationship on an even keel. The Soviets have eased up on their personal criticism of the President, say US officials, and the ``thaw'' produced by the successful get-together is yielding some progress on a number of bilateral issues, such as cultural exchange and trade.
But administration officials are acutely aware that the clock will soon force an acceleration of summit preparations and decisions.
In January, US Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze are expected to hold the first of many meetings and, among other things, work out the date and agenda of the next summit. On Jan. 16 the nuclear arms and space talks will reconvene in Geneva, providing the first real test of prospects for an arms control agreement.
Adding to the uncertainty on arms control is the departure of Robert C. McFarlane as national-security adviser. Administration officials say that his successor, John Poindexter, is extremely able but it will take time to sort out whether he can play the same kind of role in helping to ease the internal bickering that has frustrated progress on arms control.
``Bud [McFarlane] had a unique ability as a broker in an administration that has serious bureaucratic conflicts, especially in East-West relations and arms control,'' says one administration official. ``So his departure is regrettable. It's not clear how things will work out.''
Some expect Secretary Shultz and the State Department to carry greater weight now, with Admiral Poindexter taking a back seat to White House chief of staff Donald Regan, even while carrying out day-to-day operations much in the manner of his predecessor.
US officials say that Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Rozanne L. Ridgway, who played a key role in the Geneva talks, has gained in confidence in her new job and won the regard of both the secretary and the President, indicating she, too, will be a major player in future summitry.
Although Summit I was difficult in terms of arriving at the point politically where the leaders could sit down together and begin a dialogue, Summit II is expected to be tougher in terms of substantive agreement, especially on the central issue of arms control. The Soviets are already seen to be preparing a propaganda drive against the President's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that will dwarf their earlier campaign.
As a runup to the next summit, Moscow is also trying to show that it is being forthcoming and constructive. For example, Mr. Gorbachev, in a letter to President Reagan, has again urged a moratorium on nuclear explosions and offered to let US inspectors visit Soviet underground nuclear tests.
Diplomatic experts speculate that the Soviets may try to set the United States up prior to and during the Geneva arms talks by making further offers of cuts in offensive weapons and thus showing the US side what it would lose by not compromising on SDI, or ``star wars.''
Whether Gorbachev will show his hand at the resumed session in January or wait until after the Soviet Communist Party Congress in February is open to question, however.
Some analysts suggest that the general secretary may not wish to rock the boat domestically by putting down a new proposal before the party congress and before a new Politburo is approved which is even more in tune with his thinking.
Meanwhile, the Soviets are going ahead with an array of relatively minor bilateral agreements and activities, perhaps in part to show the possibilities for progress if the ``spirit of Geneva'' persists. Plans for cooperative projects are moving forward under an environmental protection agreement approved by the two leaders at the summit.
Agreement has been reached, for example, between Washington's National Gallery of Art and two Soviet museums for an exchange of art exhibits under the new cultural-exchange agreement. The two sides are also scouting out sites and costs in order to establish consulates in Kiev and New York City.
Recently Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige was in Moscow for a round of trade talks in which some 400 American business executives participated -- though little concrete progress was made.
Informal exchanges, too -- between civic groups, high school organizations, and the like -- are proliferating in the aftermath of the summit.
``They're germinating in the hundreds at all levels,'' says a State Department official. ``There's a feeling they're being abetted by the `spirit of Geneva.' It's quite extraordinary.''
Many diplomatic experts look to the visit of Mr. Gorbachev to the United States next year to help break the logjam of bilateral problems, including arms control.
Administration officials say the President is eager to have the Soviet leader travel in the country to dispel some of his misconceptions about capitalist American society.