Top representatives of the Reagan administration and the Soviet Union will soon meet for the first time. But don't hold your breath over the outcome. Neither side is showing enough "give" for the talks next week between US Secretary of State Alexander M. HAig Jr. and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to produce much more than an exchange of views.
Indeed, the two sides may end up talking past each other -- or, as one expert puts it, through each other -- with their main intention being to influence parties not present at the talks: the West European allies of the United States.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 17, Secretary Haig said that in his meeting with foreign Minister Gromyko on Sept. 23, he hoped to be able to set a place and time for talks with the Soviets concerning nuclear weapons based in Europe. Haig said that America's West European friends were anxious to see such arms control talks move ahead, and that it was important for the US to be perceived in Europe as trying to achieve arms control.
But the Reagan administration has not yet determined what its positions should be in such arms control talks. A considerable number of administration officials think the US must concentrate on building &gt;Please turn on Page 12&gt; &gt;From page 1&gt; its military defenses before going too far with such talks. Thus, the opening meetings on the subject are likely to be preliminary, indeed. Haig advocates beginning such meetings with the Soviets on European-based nuclear weapons by the end of the year.
At his meeting with the Foreign Relations Committee, which was largely devoted to the proposed sale of radar planes to Saudi Arabia, Haig spoke of a Soviet threat to the Gulf and Saudi Arabia. He said that the main threat came from Soviet "proxies" and that this is what the radar planes were designed to counter.
New "triple entente" -- consisting of pro-Soviet Libya, Ethiopia, and South Yemen -- was targeted against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Haig said.
He also said that among the West European allies, he found no opposition to the sale of the AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia. He said there was concern among the Europeans, however, that defeat of the sale by the US Congress might damage President Reagan's "international credibility."
At the same hearing, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island expressed concern that the Reagan administration, through its actions and rhetoric, was placing itself increasingly on a collision course with the Soviet Union.
But according to some State Department officials, the Soviets seem to think they can force the administration back toward detente with the Soviet Union and a less assertive foreign policy by playing on West European fears of a US-Soviet confrontation in Europe. The Soviets also tend to think, officials say, that domestic economic constraints will eventually force the administration to be more accommodating toward the Soviets.
"We have not been able to convince the Soviets that our policy has really changed," said one State Department official. "The battlefield is Western Europe."
"The Soviets are banking on Western Europe and our economic stringencies to bring us around," he said.
The Reagan administration has from the outset accused the Soviets of repeatedly using military force or other forms of violence, directly or indirectly, to achieve political aims. Administration officials have warned that unless Soviet policy changes, US-Soviet relations stand no chance of improving.
The administration apparently hopes to convince the Soviets through the Haig-Gromyko talks that it means what it says, that there has been a basic change.
"We don't have anything specific to offer the Soviet right now," said one official. "But if they can make a change in their pattern of irresponsible behavior, then there could be a better relationship further down the road."
In Senate testimony on Sept. 16, Myer Rashish, undersecretary of state for economic affairs, declared: "If the Soviets act responsibly and with restraint in the international arena, we are prepared to continue and expand our trade in the nonstrategic area. . . ."
Rashish said that the Reagan administration's lifting of the partial grain embargo against the Soviet Union and the one-year extension of the US-Soviet grain agreement is a clear indication of the administration's readiness to trade.
But he warned that even in the area of nonstrategic trade with the Soviets, "We cannot divorce our policies from overall Soviet behavior. While it is the Reagan administration's goal to reduce foreign policy trade controls, we are not prepared to forswear the use of these controls as part of an overall response to future Soviet aggressive action."
Dimitri K. Simes, axecutive director of the Soviet and East European research program at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, predicted that the Soviets will try to use the Haig-Gromyko meetings to show the West Europeans that the US is "stubborn" and not interested in serious arms control talks. The Soviets, he said, hope to split the Americans and their allies.
"Haig and Gromyko will not talk with each other but through each other, and the amin audience will be the Europeans," said Professor Simes.