Did the administration orchestrate a series of utterances that led to repudiation of the notion that East-West detente is dead? Or was the White House genuinely surprised by a wire service interview in which its own National Security Council expert on Soviet relations said that "nothing is left of detente"? Such questions by perennial skeptics should not divert attention from a responsible, conciliatory conclusion to a day that had resounded with the rhetoric of conflict.
Some of the hard-line comments on Soviet imperialism attributed to the National Security Council official, former Harvard professor Richard Pipes, were in the confrontational vein of Secretary of State Haig's congressional testimony the same day (March 18). But Mr. Pipes, identified only as a "high US official" in the interview, went beyond what either the White House or the State Department was prepared to acknowledge as US policy. It must be hoped that America's allies as well as Moscow caught up with the White House statement that the quoted official "was not authorized to speak for the administration and the views expressed do not represent administration policy."
The State Department issued a similar statement. And that night it was welcome to hear a denial that detente was dead from chairman Percy of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who spoke with Soviet leaders not long ago. He properly supported a firm United States challenge to Soviet imperialism, but he made the essential point that there is no reason for the US to move back to cold war with Russia: "We'd like to find ways to understand each other better."
Mr. Pipes reportedly said his comments were publicized in distorted form. It would be well for an authority in his key position to clarify exactly what he did mean. From the interview he appeared to be particularly concerned that West Gemany might give in to Soviet pressures for Western concessions -- a position not only unfounded, according to evidence from bonn, but damaging to the US in West German public opinion. He offered the dubious prediction that economic conditions would cause war by the soviet Union to be the only alternative to its changing its system in the direction followed by the West. He favored aid to the Afghan rebels, expressed the administration's determination "to do the Soviets what they have been doing to us," and suggested one replacement for detente might be an approach to the Soviets "as radical as the President's economic program."
It was well for the administration to immediately separate itself from the interview. But it remains important for Americans to know if such views are held by the White House's key adviser on Soviet matters. Actions rather than words, of course, will tell the world what Washington's policies actually are.But, in the realm of diplomacy, words can have the force of acts, and the fledging US administration does not need any extra burdens on the difficult path of forging appropriate re lations with allies and adversaries alike.