Releasing Shcharansky

IT is heartwarming that Avital and Anatoly Shcharansky are finally reunited, after 11 years of separation. Anatoly's release yesterday by the Soviet Union was the most-publicized aspect of a United States-Soviet transfer of nine persons, all believed accused or convicted of spying, a charge Anatoly strongly denied. Before his sentence in 1978 he was a leading spokesman for the fledgling Soviet human rights movement and an activist in the efforts of Soviet Jews to emigrate. On the scale of world geopolitics, the willingness by the Soviet Union and the West to exchange these nine persons is not, of itself, of immense importance. And it should not be read as indicating a significant loosening of Soviet emigration or human rights positions.

But it is one of a series of moves by both superpowers that, taken together, indicate a desire to improve relations. These gestures produce a more encouraging climate in which to seek agreement in negotiations on nuclear weaponry, as well as in the regular conduct of affairs between Moscow and Washington.

In recent months both sides have toned down their rhetoric.

Late last year President Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev held their first summit. They have another scheduled -- at least tentatively -- for later this year.

The Soviets lately have let a limited number of Russians, like Mr. Shcharansky, emigrate to join spouses from whom they have been long separated. Moscow has appeared to back away from an insistence that no agreement could be reached on medium-range missiles without some accord on so-called ``star wars.'' And there have been other gestures.

Moscow's moves can be read as mere posturing for improved public relations value in the international arena. It should be remembered that such modest relaxations can be superseded at any point by more-stringent policies; over the years such reversals have occurred from time to time.

Yet now that the international atmosphere is more conducive to accommodation, it behooves the two nations to redouble efforts to reach agreement in the various arms negotiations now under way -- on long-range missiles, intermediate-range missiles, and conventional forces.

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