The Carter administration, stung by resistance in athletic circles to its Olympic boycott plans, is pulling out all the stops to explain why it feels no US team should go to Moscow and to reaffirm its resolve that no such team will go.
In a special briefing for Eastern newsmen this week, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other spokesmen urged support of the government's position that:
* Participation would be contrary to US foreign policy and against the interests of national security.
* A boycott would have a significant impact on the Soviet Union, which has gone to great lengths to use the awarding of the Olympic Games to Moscow as a propaganda vehicle and as "proof" of the correctness of its system.
* Athletes are only one of many groups being asked to sacrifice via the various measures President Carter has taken to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
* A quick vote of support by the US Olympic Committee is vital in terms influencing other countries.
* Any attempt to defy the President will be opposed by the government with every legal resource at its command.
"We know this is a sacrifice -- but we also know of no single peaceful action that would bring home as dramatically our objection to the USSR's actions," Christopher said. "Many nations are watching to see if we'll be firm or waver," he added. "The Soviets are watching too. They would like to believe that in time our concern will lessen. "If we firmly and clearly show the way, I think the rest of the world will applaud, and much of the rest of the world will follow us."
The timing of this and other such briefings around the country -- 2 1/2 months after President Carter first announced the boycott and just before a scheduled vote by the USOC this coming weekend on its position -- was no accident.
"It's precisely because of the upcoming vote," State Department spokesman Hodding Carter III said in reply to a question about the timing. "It's clear there's strong opposition in some quarters -- frankly more than we anticipated.
"We made an assumption that the athletic organizations, no less than farmers, businessmen, and cultural groups, would go along. Instead there is a rather massive campaign to, in effect, face down not only the President of the United States but both houses of Congress, which voted overwhelmingly in support, and the United States people, who have supported the boycott in every poll."
Asked to what he attributed the opposition, he said:
"It's a blindered approach to a problem in which you believe that the sun rises and falls on your interest. . . ."
Hodding Carter and other speakers made it clear that while they hoped to elicit voluntary compliance, the government was prepared to get tough if necessary. This was evident when the questioning turned to how the administration would react to an adverse vote by the committee, or to a situation in which athletes tried to compete individually, though the latter would require a change in IOC rules.
"As the President has said, we do not intend to prevent individuals from traveling in the USSR," Mr. Christopher said, "but we do intend to exert all the authority we have to prevent a US team from competing.
"We found adequate authority in our laws to prevent sales of Olympic-related material, and to prevent a $20 million TV rights payment. We have strong measures we can take. We prefer that the USOC . . . vote not to go."
Deputy Presidential Counsel Joe Onek was equally blunt.
"We do have legal resources to prevent a US team, or a group purporting to be a US team, from going," he said. "I'm not going to say more. We have the resources. We do not expect to have to use them, because we do expect that the USOC next weekend will live up to its commitments."
The latter reference was to a Feb. 14 statement by the USOC leadership that "Of course, the USOC will accept any decision concerning our participation in the games the President makes in view of his analysis of what is best for the country." Since that time, however, the anti-boycott forces within the committee appear to have grown much stronger, leaving some question as to the outcome of the weekend vote.
Charges have been made that the government has been using its leverage to dissuade corporations from contributing money to the USOC, with particular reference to a decision by Sears, Roebuck & Co. to withhold a previously planned donation. The government denies any direct intervention, but Presidential Counsel Lloyd Cutler noted that the President obviously wouldn't try very hard to encourage contributions to an organization that defied him.
With most major nations publicly uncommitted, Mr. Christopher was asked about private assurances of support.
"I don't want to talk about that. I tell you it's my firm belief that if we don't go, we will be joined in that action by our major trading partners, our major allies."
Special Adviser Marshall Shulman, an expert on Soviet affairs, noted that Soviet citizens are perhaps more aware than some Westerners think of what is going on -- both by listening to foreign broadcasts and by reading between the lines of their own government-controlled press reports. He said a boycott would bring home to them what the world thinks of their government's actions.
Mr. Onek said the same result would not be achieved via a proposed partial boycott in which athletes would not participate in the ceremonies. He said far from having the same sort of dramatic effect, such an action would be played down or overlooked entirely in the Soviet TV and press -- and the USSR and the IOC might even negate the whole thing just by having other athletes follow the same procedures. In any event, he said, "it would just be a minor gesture, not consistent with the magnitude of the Soviet aggression."
The government spokesmen said they hoped the USOC would reject participation outright, not just put off a firm and clear-cut decision until closer to the May 24 deadline.
"We would prefer the USOC vote to decline," Mr. Onek said, but we understand that there may be a resolution to delay until May 20, with the decision to be based on the President's position then. That is less acceptable to us. It would have almost the same result, but it would be a lot neater and cleaner if the USOC just said 'no' right now.
Mr. Carter emphasized the same point. He said any further delay by the USOC would be a disservice (1) to national policy, "which is not going to change," (2 ) to the prospect of organizing alternative games, which can get under way much more effectively after the participation question is over with, and (3) to the athletes, "who are going to be held out there in an unfair state of suspense that some miracle is going to happen -- because whether the decision comes now or later, a US team is not going to go."