Soviet President Brezhnev's summit proposal was only one of a number of ideas put forth by the Soviet leader that intrigue US policymakers. But American officials say it will take time to determine what, if anything, is worthwhile in the Brezhnev proposals.
In the meantime, the US is stressing its interest in the proposals, ambigous though some of them may be.
The relatively positive official American response to the Brezhnev speech of Feb. 23 has been required in part to reassure America's European allies. Some of the allies are concerned over the hard-line rhetoric which Washington has directed recently at the Soviet Union. They want to maintain some semblance of East-West detente.
Most foreign affairs experts seem to agree that for the Reagan administration to reject the Brezhnev proposal for a US- Soviet summit meeting out of hand would be, if nothing else, a terrible public relations mistake. But the new administration is far from ready for a summit. It must, therefore, find a balance. It must express interest in the Brezhnev summit proposal while not committing itself to anything, at least at this stage.
President Reagan expressed his interest in the Soviet summit proposal on Feb. 24, declaring: "I wouldn't try to guess what's in their thinking, but let's just say I found it very interesting."
What is most intriguing to some specialists is what the Brezhnev speech may portend for Poland. Some of them think that by extending an olive branch to President Reagan, President Brezhnev may be precluding the possibility of any Soviet invasion of Poland for the near future. Only a few weeks ago, some Washington press reports made it sound as though the administration considered a Soviet invasion imminent. Official spokesmen denied that this was the case.
On Feb. 23, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. declared that the Brezhnev speech to the Congress of the Soviet Communist Party contained some "new and remarkable innovations." Earlier administration reaction had been less positive. Although Mr. Haig did not explain what he meant by innovations, other officials later said he was referring first of all to Brezhnev's apparent approval of French proposals to extend so-called confidence-building measures concerning Soviet military maneuvers all the way to the Ural Mountains.
The Soviet Union previously had been cool to any suggestion that confidence-building measures, such as advance notification of major military activities, be extended as far as the Urals, more than a thousand miles in- land from the Soviet's western border. What is not yet clear is what reciprocal gesture the Soviets would demand in return for extending such measures deep into the Soviet Union. The main aim of such measures is to prevent an outbreak of war through accident or miscalculation.
US officials are also interested in President Brezhnev's suggestion that limits be imposed on new US Trident submarines in exchange for limits on "similar ones" by the Soviet Union. The similar submarines are believed to be the giant new Typhoon subs which the Soviets are developing. But the US probably would not want to get into a negotiation over such submarine limits without including proposals to limit the Soviet's and land-based nuclear missiles.
US officials see nothing new in the Brezhnev proposals to freeze the deployment of US and Soviet theater-range nuclear weapons in Europe. They think this would give the Soviets an advantage, because, in their view, the Soviets' SS-20 missiles, already in place, have to be countered with new American missiles.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Jean Francois-Poncet said following a meeting with Secretary of State Haig on Feb. 23 that the Brezhnev proposals seemed to demonstrate a Soviet "will and spirit for dialogue which is, I think, something that ought to be picked up." The French have been consistent supporters of a regular East-West dialogue.
The French foreign minister also expressed public support for the US assessment of Soviet and Cuban backing for the insurgency in El Salvador. But he was careful to stress that France thinks economic and political reforms also are needed to solve such third-world problems and that military means alone will not suffice. This seemed to reflect concern on the part of the French, which is shared by some other American allies, that the Reagan administration may be placing too much emphasis on military solutions.
However, President Reagan told reporters Feb. 24 that he was aware of concern that the US might be getting into "another Vietnam" in El Salvador and declared "we have no intention of that kind of involv ement."