For the first time in two years the United States and the Soviet Union resumed arms control talks Nov. 30. Chief negotiators Paul Nitze and Yuli Kvitsinsky met in the Soviet mission in Geneva to discuss procedures for the full delegations' talks beginning Dec. 1 on intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. Afterward, Nitze called their 90 -minute exchange ''cordial and businesslike.''
Both sides have clearly been staking out the high ground for themselves. In brief prenegotiation statements both Nitze and Kvitsinsky stated that their side was serious about negotiations - and left it an open question if the other side was.
To emphasize their seriousness the two negotiators have agreed on a virtual news blackout. There is to be no public discussion of the issues being negotiated.
Spokesmen for both sides have warned against expecting any quick results. The negotiations are in fact expected to be long drawn out and, for at least 16 months, inconclusive. Protraction is guaranteed not only from the stonewalling tactics that characterize the early stage of all East-West weapons talks, but also from the innate complexities of the subject and the current uncertainties of overall superpower relations.
''Eurostrategic'' continental weapons are ambiguous strategically, enormously complicated technically, and much more difficult to monitor and verify than the intercontinental weapons so far covered in arms control agreements.
Moreover, on the Soviet side, Moscow will want to see first if it can get something for nothing - if grass-roots antinuclear movements in Europe will defeat the planned mid-'80s deployment of new NATO missiles without the Soviet Union having to make any concessions. The Kremlin will not have to make a final evaluation of this until summer 1983. That's when West Germany and other NATO countries will begin preparing for installation of the missiles if there is no progress in the Geneva negotiations.
On the American side, the Reagan administration is no more ready to move just yet. It will have to mold its general principles of toughness toward Moscow into concrete policy - to figure out how to balance the inevitable mix of confrontation and cooperation with the Soviet Union. It will also have to mold its general pro-military instincts into concrete decisions about where Western security can best be ensured by more American weapons and where by fewer Soviet weapons (i.e., by arms control).
The administration won't begin to sort out these priorities until after US Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko have met in January and superpower strategic arms control talks have been resumed some weeks or months after that.
In the meantime, there is plenty to occupy Nitze and Kvitsinsky in the intermediate-range nuclear negotiations in Geneva. Their first contentious task will be to decide which weapons they are going to discuss initially: The US wants to focus on only the Soviet and American land-based missiles, while the Soviet Union wants to include the much more complicated aircraft and submarines as well as British and French missiles.
Curiously, the two sides have already drawn fairly close on one main issue - existing numbers - even before the full delegation talks begin. To be sure, Reagan claims a 6-to-1 Soviet superiority by counting in 2,700 Soviet fighters and counting out the 252 French and British long-range bombers and submarines. And the Soviet Union claims parity by calculating weapons rather than warheads and by excluding the Soviet equivalents of American aircraft it does include.
In the most crucial area of missiles, however, the numbers of the two sides are remarkably similar. Following its previous pattern in arms control talks, the Soviet Union last week finally admitted to numbers close to Western claims of Soviet missile numbers. Brezhnev is said by informed West German sources to have acknowledged during his Bonn visit that the Soviet Union has 171 SS-20s targeted on Europe (the West counts about 175) and 325 SS-4s and SS-5s (the West says 350).
When added to the 18 nuclear submarines that the Russians announced in Bonn as being targeted on Europe, this means that the Soviet Union admits to targeting Europe with 856 continental-range nuclear warheads. The West calculates this figure as about 893, for a difference of only about 37. These are countered by no American and 162 British and French single-warhead missiles, in both the Western and Soviet counts.
In the intermediate range this makes for a Soviet to NATO (nonaircraft) missile warhead ratio of more than 5 to 1.