The sluggishness of the Madrid Conference on European Cooperation and Security stems from two principal reasons: 1. The all-pervading sense of mistrust between delegates from East and West. Feelings are exacerbated by the crisis in Poland, and by the international tension following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This makes dialogue difficult, if not impossible.
2. Uncertainty about President Reagan's new and hardline administration has undoubtedly made the Soviet delegation very wary.
Initially, it was considered a success that the Soviet delegation had attended this meeting at all. Now the Americans would like to end it as soon as possible and the Russians are prepared to sit it out. However, as with the Russians last year, and with the American now, neither side wants to take the responsibility of ending the meeting.
"We are prisoners of our own process," says a US delegate. Since the beginning of this year, when discussions began to focus on security and disarmament issues, there has been little movement.
But there has been a softening in the Russian delegation's position following Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's speech to the Communist Party congress last Feb. 23.
Mr. Brezhnev indicated he was willing to make some concessions to achieve disarmament. Realizing that a Warsaw Pact proposal for a European disarmament conference had no chance of being accepted either by NATO countries or by neutral and nonaligned states at the conference, he took a step toward a rival proposal presented by France and backed by NATO.
The French proposed a disarmament conference based on a series of "confidence-building measures," such as a proper exchange of information on military maneuvers. The measures must extend throughout the European territory of the Soviet Union, up to the Urals, and be verifiable, mandatory, and militarily significant.
After initially rejecting the idea outright, the Soviets now are willing to consider extensi on to the Urals.