US-USSR arms talks: off to a brisk start

Soviet statements to the contrary, the Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction talks are moving along at a brisk, serious pace, according to the top US negotiator.

Edward L. Rowny, chief negotiator at the talks with the Soviets - which reopen for a second round in Geneva this week - also says that both sides are continuing to avoid ''undercutting'' previously negotiated SALT agreements.

In an interview with the Monitor before his return to Geneva, Ambassador Rowny said both sides had dismantled a number of nuclear-armed submarines in order to stay within SALT limits.

Rowny is still convinced, however, that the Soviets will not make concessions needed to reach a new agreement on reducing nuclear weapons on both sides until they see that the US and its Western European allies are serious about deploying new, medium-range American missles in Europe. That deployment is scheduled to begin in December 1983. The Reagan administration has proposed a sharp reduction in Soviet and American nuclear arsenals, under a strategic arms reduction treaty , or START.

The Soviets have publicly denounced President Reagan's proposals as one-sided because they would require radical cuts in the Soviets' main missile force - land-based missiles. But the Reagan adminstration argues that because Moscow has concentrated so much of its megatonnage in land-based missiles, it could now launch a devastating ''first strike'' against US land-based forces, thus giving it at present a ''margin of superiority'' over the US.

In a speech at the United Nations on Oct. 1, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko contended that so far at the Geneva talks the US ''has failed to show the desire to come to an agreement.''

One Soviet press commentator, often described as influential, had earlier contended that as long as Reagan was in the White House, it was unlikely that any serious agreement could be reached with the Americans. Another Soviet commentator quoted a West German publication as saying that Rowny, a retired Army lieutenant general, was ''simply a militant anti-communist who doubts that there is any expediency in an agreement with Moscow.''

Rowny calmly shrugs all this off.

''So what's new?'' he says, when asked about harsh Soviet criticisms of the US START proposals. Rowny says that typically the Soviets intensify their propaganda attack on the US during the UN session in the fall, partly in an attempt to throw the US on the defensive.

But he sees a difference between Moscow's public posture and its private negotiating style. The public posture is seen in part as an attempt to drive a wedge between the US and its West European allies, thus undermining NATO's plan to deploy new missiles. But Rowny says that in the Geneva talks, the Soviets have yet to reject Reagan's proposals out of hand.

He says that while the two side have agreed not to discuss details of the talks in public, the Soviets do not at all appear to have written off the Reagan administration as a hopeless case, as some Soviet commentators would imply.

''The Soviets came to Geneva ready to talk, and with a minimum of get-to-know-you and that sort of thing, . . . we got down to business rather quickly and stayed on business,'' says Rowny. ''That's a good sign. I can't say that it's progress with anykind of a capital 'P.' . . . But we laid out our position and they asked a lot of questions, and they were good questions.''

''They didn't seem to be stalling or blowing smoke,'' he continues, refering to the first round of talks, which lasted six weeks. ''There was no polemicizing.''

Rowny describes his Soviet counterpart in Geneva, Viktor Karpov, the chief soviet negotiator, as ''knowledgeable, tough, and articulate.''

''He does his homework,'' says Rowny, ''he's a professional.''

Rowny says that the nuclear freeze movement in the West had no impact on the Soviets: If adopted by the US, a freeze would simply leave the Soviets with no incentive to negotiate nuclear arms reductions. He warns that there are cultural differences between the West and the USSR that could easily lead to frustration and internal disputes in the West, which in turn might undermine the Western negotiating position.

''We tend to think that this is an NFL football-type negotiation, or a labor-versus-management type negotiation,'' Rowny says. ''But these are different cultures. Unfortuntely, we don't study that, we don't understand that. We get frustrated, and we end up negotiating among ourselves.''

''The Soviets,'' he says, ''have been trained under authority, and they don't understand democracy. To the extent that they understand it, they think it's a weakness. Compromise is seen as weakness. But the essence of Western negotiations is compromise. . . . In the spirit of Greek -rationalism, we believe that problems are there to be solved. The Soviet attitude is that they may be there to be solved, or they may not be.''

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