Brezhnev tries to push arms control wedge between US and allies
Moscow — Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev has made an apparent bid to jolt the delicate balance between Washington and its NATO allies on arms control. The more pessimistic among foreign "Poland-watchers" here also saw in Mr. Brezhnev's June 9 comments onarms talks a possible new sign that Moscow is closing no options in dealing with the Polish crisis, although there was no way of confirming this interpretation from Soviet officials.
The Soviet President, speaking at a dinner for visiting Algerian head of state Chadli Benjedid, dismissed as "mere words" a United States announcement that preliminary contacts were about to begin on reopening arms talks with Moscow.
It was not immediately clear to diplomats here whether the statement meant that Mr. Brezhnev had decided to refuse, or at least delay, such preliminary talks. Western sources here said June 10 that one such meeting had been held in recent days.
But the Brezhnev remarks were viewed as the most serious Soviet challenge yet to President Reagan's delicate bid to beef up Western military capabilities without overly alarming key European allies, such as West Germany.
The Reagan administration had managed partly to allay West European concern over renewed superpower tension by pledging to begin talks with Moscow on limiting nuclear missiles in Western and Eastern Europe.
In effect Soviet officials, who have made little secret of their hope that Western Europe will exert a moderating pressure on the Americans, seem to have decided to call Mr. Reagan's bluff on the arms control issue.
"It is being alleged in Washington," the Soviet President said, "that the United States will shortly start, or has even already started, talks with the Soviet Union on arms control.
"Unfortunately, these are mere words. I can say quite definitely: Not a single real step has been made on the part of the United States since the present administration came to powert . . . toward continuing, at least in a preliminary sense, the discussion of the essence of these [arms] questions."
He charged that Washington was "now trying to lull its allies, and public opinion" into believing there was genuine movement on the arms control front.
Diplomats expect Moscow to press further with this line when an international arms control group, including former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, arrives for a meeting here June 12 and perhaps also during a coming visit by the foreign minister of Belgium, Charles Ferdinand- Nothomb. Some analysts, meanwhile, related Mr. Brezhnev's comments to the continuing tension next door in Poland. Amid recently escalating signs of Soviet displeasure over developments in Poland , these observers suggested that the statement could be read as part of the verbal groundwork for some form of Soviet intervention.
The analysts cautioned that they had not the slightest idea whether the Kremlin was, indeed, planning such a move.
Mr. Brezhnev did not mention the Polish crisis in his speech.
But when US outrage over Soviet intervention in Afghanistan doomed ratification of the SALT-II strategic arms pact with Moscow, the public argument here was that the Americans had never planned to ratify it in the first place.