Vance trip gives Moscow opening to push arms talk

Moscow has seized on a visit by former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to voice growing bitterness over Reagan administration policy, and to push hard for renewed nuclear arms talks.

Although tension in Poland still looms like an enormous question mark over the entire negotiating process, the Soviets were expected to convey a similar message to Charles Ferndinand Nothomb, the foreign minister of Belgium, who began talks here June 15.

The emerging Soviet strategy has been to toss out various initiatives, refine or even redefine them, in the apparent hope that someone in the West may bite.

Their principal audience so far has been the West Europeans, formal Reagan administration allies openly uneasy over heightened superpower tension and hankenring for fresh arms talks.

Mr. Vance came to Moscow as part of the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues, an international group advocating heightened arms-control efforts. Other prominent members, including chairman Olaf Palme of Sweden and David Owen of Britain, are, like Mr. Vance, former officials of Western governments.

Their official welcome here, minus an honor guard and an airport military band, was fitting for a visiting head of state. Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev met Mr. Palme. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko met Mr. Vance and Mr. Owen, who is a former British foreign secretary.

But the Soviets' ultimate concern, and presumably ultimate audience, was a man who was not present: Ronald Reagan.

Palme commission members said that Brezhnev and Gromyko, in private meetings, still spoke more in sorrow than in anger of the Reagan administration. But other senior Soviet officials spoke with much more bitterness, commission sources said.

Soviet sources told the Monitor that President Brezhnev was personally angered by an alleged misquotation by US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger of remarks by Mr. Brezhnev. This could explain a sharp rebuttal of the Weinberger statement that appeared in a recent edition of the Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda. It was signed by "A. Petrov," generally assumed to be a pseudonym for senior leadership circles.

Palme commission members argue that the Soviets' stated desire for new super- power arms talks is genuine. More than a few foreign diplomats here agree.

Senior Soviet officials maintain publicly and privately that "we are not scared of the Americans." No foreign analysts here doubt the Moscow is prepared to match Washington gun for gun and missile for missile in any continued arms race. But they also maintain -- and Mr. Brezhnev has suggested as much publicly -- the effort would further strain the troubled Soviet economy.

Perhaps most important some diplommat says, is Mr. Brezhnev's identification with the policy of superpower detente. He does not want to preside over its funeral.

Not surprisingly, Moscow and Washington have almost diametrically opposed views of the superpower equation. The controversy now centers on the so-called Euromissiles and plans to base new US projectiles in Western Europe to offset a perceived Soviet advantage in nuclear forces.

The West, particularly Washington, suggests that the ongoing deployment of powerful new Soviet missiles in the European part of the USSR has tipped the balance heavily toward the Kremlin. The Soviets says "essential parity" exists, if you count the West's "forward-based" submarines, military jets, and (older) land missiles.

Independent military experts here sounded out by the Monitor suggest both sides are probably not being honest: that the Soviets have an edge, widened by the fact that their new missiles are "mobile" and thus harder to detect, but less pronounced than some Western officials argue.

Aware, that at least small NATO states like Belgium and the Netherlands appear less than eager to accept new US missiles, Moscow is probing and pressing for talks on the Euromissile balance in hopes of curbing new Western nuclear deployments.

The latest Soviet suggestion, actually a narrowed definition of an earlier, unsuccessful proposal, was made during the Vance visit. It would entail a freeze in the deployment of new Soviet missiles, now proceeding at an estimated pace of one each five days, in exchange for a freeze in "preparations to deploy" US missiles.

The strong implication was that curbs on production of new missiles would be excluded -- deployment, of course, is the key issue for the West -- but remained sufficiently woolly so that no Palme commission member was quite sure what it meant.

A top commission member told the Monitor that he felt the Soviet were resigned to the deployment of at least some new US missiles in West Europe.

The Soviet hope, as he saw it, was to keep the numbers as low as possible. "But," he added, "the unspoken question surrounding the whole issue is always there: Poland."

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