The Soviet Union, initially unsure of how to respond to the US offer to resume arms-reduction talks before the end of the year, made up its mind over the weekend and unloosed a barrage of criticism against the United States and its NATO allies.
The blast from the Soviet deputies was in contrast to President Leonid Brezhnev's more moderate stance. In a speech marking the 36th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, he called for continued dialogue and efforts toward peace.
But Mr. Brezhnev has a reputation to maintain as the architect of detente, and it is simpler for him to let deputies rattle the sabers while he sounds the clarion call of peace.
The official Tass news agency issued an unusual "statement" on last week's NATO meeting in rome and repeated it no fewer than three times to subscribers, indicating that Kremlin higher-ups considered its contents important.
The statement condemned US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s call on May 4 for resumed arms talks as "vague verbiage."
"Even the bourgeois press does not conceal that this camouflage was needed in order to mislead the international public and dampen protests in many countries against the militaristic plans of the USA and NATO," the statement said.
A senior Western diplomat was not surprised by the outburst. "I think they were disappointed by the results of the Rome meeting. They had hoped their efforts to split the alliance would have rather more success."
The Soviets are more pessimistic now about being able to halt the planned NATO arms buildup, he said.
The Rome conference also rejected the Soviet proposal for a ban on the deployment of medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, which must have disappointed the Soviets.
The Western allies maintain that the Soviet Union, which has systematically installed an estimated 200 SS-2s recently, holds an advantage over NATO. The Kremlin insists that parity has been reached and the SS-20s are not a new generation of weapon but are merely replacing worn-out equipment.
The Rome meeting succeeded in "turning Western Europe into a launching pad for new US missiles and the West Europeans themselves into hostages, as it were, of the Pentagon's nuclear strategy."
Obviously, it said, the Soviet Union does not bear responsibility for the complicated world situation. Even Western Europe, the press said in early response to the Rome meeting, recognized that responsibility lay with the United States and therefore forced that country to offer to sit down at the negotiating table with the Soviets.