Washington — ``There's a feeling that they've got to go back to the well, and this time come back with a full bucket.'' The quest for the ``full bucket,'' to use the words of a senior United States diplomat, will dominate the discussions this week between US Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
The US wants to reengage Mr. Shevardnadze in the sort of arms control discussions that were left off at last month's summit in Reykjavik, Iceland.
At the same time, the US will be pressing the point that failure to adhere to any past agreement makes it harder to forge new ones.
Secretary Shultz and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze meet in Vienna - probably tomorrow - for the start of a conference to review what has come to be known as the ``Helsinki Final Act'' - the concluding document of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).
Eleven years after its adoption, many Western nations and a number of human-rights monitoring groups charge that Moscow repeatedly breaches the agreement.
The US will seek to underscore that point at the review meeting. At the same time, it is the first time since the Reykjavik summit that Mr. Shultz and Shevardnadze have come face to face.
US officials believe they came tantalizingly close to an arms control accord in Reykjavik.
``We've got to get a conversation going again,'' one of them says.
At the same time, the US intends to be blunt in its criticism of Soviet failure to observe the Helsinki agreement.
According to US diplomats, the issues are linked.
Ambassador Warren Zimmermann, head of the US delegation to the Vienna meeting, asks, ``What's the value of launching into major new commitment if the old commitments remain on the books'' but are not honored?
There are growing indications that the Soviets are sensitive to that criticism, and are seeking to head it off. But human rights groups contend that Moscow is relying on public-relations gestures, rather than making genuine progress in resolving rights problems.
``We cannot respond to their new disarmament proposals because we cannot trust them,'' says Vera F. Politis, chairman of the human rights committee of the Congress of Russian-Americans, which is seeking a loosening of Soviet emigration policies.
The organization is seeking the release from prison of Igor Ogurtsov, who was arrested in 1967 and sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years in exile for his role in founding a Christian organization opposed to communist rule in the Soviet Union.
For Soviet Jews, oppression has actually worsened under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, says John Rosenberg, a spokesman for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.
The organization says that 30,000 Soviet Jews have been refused permission to leave the country, and another 400,000 have taken preliminary steps to emigrate in the face of growing harassment by Soviet authorities.
What is at issue, says Mr. Rosenberg, ``is the right to practice religion in the way they choose to do so.''
The Soviet Union claims, however, that virtually all the Jews who want to leave the country have already emigrated. Moreover, Soviet authorities claim that the rights of religious believers in the USSR are being respected.
Perhaps one indicator of Moscow's sensitivity to the issue was last week's visit to the US by Konstantin M. Kharchev, chairman of the USSR Council on Religious Affairs, the government agency that supervises churches.
He met with a number of American religious leaders, and even joined in Israeli dances at a Hebrew school in New York. Two weeks ago, the Soviet Embassy in Washington held a press conference to announce that four Soviet 'emigr'es in the US had applied for, and been granted, permission to return to their homeland. Also, the head of the Soviet delegation at the Vienna meetings is a Jew, according to US sources.
``I expect we're going to see some new tactics on the part of the Soviets,'' says Jeri Laber, executive director of Helsinki Watch, a US human-rights monitoring group.
She notes that in recent months, a number of prominent dissidents - notably human rights campaigner Yuri Orlov - have been released from the USSR.
But, she says, ``I think it's a great mistake to assume because of the recent releases that something basic has changed in the Soviet Union.''
Her organization has compiled a 350-page report detailing Soviet human rights abuses, which was released in Vienna this week.
The new report concludes, ``For every case resolved, the Soviets have created new cases to fill up our future lists.''
``Our job,'' says Ms. Laber, ``is to applaud what has happened [that is positive], but not to be taken in by it.''