Make or break? Soviets see Iceland meeting as key to future US relations
The Soviets are portraying this weekend's Iceland summit as a make-or-break meeting. In Reykjavik, they say, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will finally decide whether or not he can work with President Reagan.Skip to next paragraph
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Although Washington has sought to play down expectations that major agreements can be concluded in the Icelandic capital, the Soviets have tended to sound more hopeful.
``A comparison of the Reagan-Gorbachev correspondence does suggest some points in common,'' says one Russian official working on the summit preparations. Soviet officials here say the two leaders will discuss the whole range of their interests -- from arms control and regional issues such as Afghanistan and the Middle East to human rights. (For third-world view of summit, see Page 9.)
Moscow's key interest, however, is arms control and reduction, with a particular interest in medium-range missiles, chemical warfare, the ``star wars'' defense system, and a ban on nuclear tests.
Medium-range missiles seem the most promising subject. The two governments appear to be moving toward an interim agreement in which medium-range missiles (those with a range of 600 to 3,000 miles) in Europe will be reduced to about 100 on each side. The sticking point to any such agreement is the presence of Soviet medium-range missiles in Asia. Washington says these should go; Moscow says they should be left out of the discussion for the time being.
Other possible topics of discussion:
SDI. Moscow is convinced that movement on the Strategic Defense Initiative is possible. In Reykjavik, Mr. Gorbachev will propose a 15-year delay in deployment of SDI (or ``star wars''), a senior official says. He will, however, probably be willing to compromise on the timing, the official adds.
The Soviets' confidence in movement on SDI is based partly on their suspicion that the United States Congress -- which they watch very closely -- is less enthusiastic about SDI than Mr. Reagan is and will accordingly be less generous with funds. It may also be partly due to their analysis of US public opinion. An article on the subject by staff members of the Institute of USA and Canada Studies, an official think tank here, was published earlier this year in a small-circulation sociological journal. It concluded that Reagan had public support for SDI, but that this support was soft, particularly when it came to funding the program.
Moratorium. Moscow first declared a moratorium on nuclear tests on Aug. 6, 1985, and has since repeatedly urged Washington to follow suit. The Soviets regularly say that an agreement on a test ban would be easy to reach. All that is needed, they insist, is political will. They claim that verification is no longer a problem and have allowed a private US organization to set up monitoring equipment near their test range in Semipalatinsk.
The chances of an agreement, however, appear remote. Last week, senior US officials once again said that the United States was not ready to conclude a nuclear test ban treaty with Moscow.
Even without an agreement, the Soviets claim that their moratorium policy has been a major propaganda success. The test ban was an excellent example of the new ``dynamic'' Soviet approach to world affairs, Yegor Ligachev, the Kremlin's No. 2 man, said last week. The ban ``sharply increased our effectiveness'' in the world arena, he said. ``It made us new allies and increased our country's authority throughout the world.''
Among the regional issues likely to be touched on at the summit:
Middle East. Moscow wants to play a central role in any settlement of problems in that region and has proposed an international conference on the question. The US and Israel say that Soviet participation in a conference is impossible as long as Moscow does not recognize Israel and refuses to allow the free emigration of Soviet Jews. Tentative diplomatic contacts between Israel and the Soviet Union earlier this year proved fruitless.
Afghanistan. The change of leadership in Kabul in May, when Babrak Karmal was replaced by Najibullah, seems to have been an effort by Moscow to streamline the Afghan government's fight against guerrillas. There has been no sign of any reduction of Moscow's support for the regime. The withdrawal from Afghanistan of about 6,000 Soviet troops, announced July 28, is reminiscent of the Vietnamese gambit in Cambodia: removal of the most irritating secondary aspects of the quarrel, while refusing to budge on political power, the core of the problem.
Angola. South African attacks on Angola, including one in June, when two Soviet cargo ships were badly damaged, have added to US-Soviet friction here. The Soviets and Angola both hold Washington partly responsible for the incursions because, they say, South Africa is the ``faithful guardian'' of US interests in the region.
Relations were already poor. Earlier this year, the US gave a warm welcome and a promise of $15 million aid to rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, commander of the South African-backed National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Meanwhile Moscow is assisting the Angolan government and Moscow's Cuban allies have sent 25,000 to 30,000 troops. Neither side seems interested in reducing support to its allies.
Cambodia. Little progress here is likely. The US and China are funding guerrillas opposed to the Vietnamese-backed govenment in Phnom Penh, while troops of Moscow's ally Vietnam continue to do much of the fighting in Cambodia. Moscow is torn between its desire to improve relations with China and the need not to alienate Hanoi. The Soviet-Vietnamese relationship has proved costly for Moscow in financial terms, but has given Moscow a strategic foothold in the region -- one that worries the US and its allies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.