So far, European and american reactions to Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev's latest foreign policy statement are in phase. Both sides of the Atlantic are giving a cautious welcome to the Soviet willingness to continue SALT talks and extend the European area of conventional arms control to cover more Soviet territory. Both have limited expectations about the likely fruits of East-West negotiations.
Later on there will be room for differing interpretations of Soviet seriousness in negotiations as positions are worked out. But for now the US and its NATO allies are united. President Reagan signaled his readiness to talk with the Russians in an interview with the French newspaper, Le Figaro, just before Brezhnev's keynote address to the Soviet Communist Party congress. It was a gesture Western Europeans welcomed.
And a week ago the US finally supported, at the Madrid conference on European security, an earlier French proposal for a European disarmament conference. This shared Western readiness to explore the possibilities of mutual arms restraint -- plus the implicit continued Soviet threat to Poland -- pulls the allies together tactically as well as strategically.
In his speech Brezhnev made little overt appeal to the Europeans to define their interests differently from those of the United States. In his tour d'horizonm Brezhnev freely criticized Great Britain. He described Soviet relations with West Germany as having "developed advantageously on the whole." He added the routine warning to West Germany, however, to be careful about West Berlin.
Among capitalist states Brezhnev's warmest words were reserved for France as he praised the policies of President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
Two Brezhnev proposals that a year ago might have found more resonance in Europe than in the US are currently meeting with what one American diplomat termed "healthy skepticism." These are the offers of a superpower summit and a freeze on deployment of medium-range missiles in Europe.
A year ago -- after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian seizure of American hostages but before liberalization in Poland and the threat of a Soviet invasion of Poland -- French and West German leaders did worry that the Carter administration was too unwilling to talk with the Kremlin. Now, however, the present Reagan caution in approaching negotiations is regarded as a natural part of policy formulation in a new administration.
On a medium-range missile freeze in Europe, Brezhnev seems a year too late to generate any European enthusiasm. The West German chancellor tentatively broached such a moratorium last summer -- and promptly had his wrist slapped by the US. In the meanwhile however, the Soviet Union has accelerated its deployment of mobile, triple-warhead SS-20s with a range to reach any target in Europe. Only a few days ago the West German defense minister made public the number of SS-20s now targeted on Europe; over 150. In response to the Brezhnev speech West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher has publicly rejected such a freeze.
Both Western Europe and the US are waiting to see what the Soviets mean when they offer to include more Soviet territory in "confidence-building measures," i.e., advance notification of large maneuvers. The key element of the French proposal for a disarmement conference -- which has long been supported by the European Community and is now also supported by the US -- is that it should cover the European Soviet Union as far as the Urals, as well as all of Western and Eastern Europe.