Senior Soviet official expects eventual thaw with Peking
Moscow — A senior Soviet official says he sees good prospects for eventual normalization of ties with China - but that ''deeds must follow words'' if there is to be a genuine improvement of Soviet relations with the United States.
Viktor Afanasyev, editor in chief of the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, also said ''nothing good'' could come from the continued crisis over Afghanistan. He said Moscow ''firmly'' wanted a political settlement consistent with Soviet concern not to have ''a hostile government on our border.''
Mr. Afanasyev, a member of the party Central Committee, offered his views on foreign policy issues in an exclusive Monitor interview Nov. 19.
He pointed to signs that could be read as hopeful in both Soviet-Chinese and Soviet-US ties, although substantive problems remained in both relationships.
But he said that on the basis of signs both before and after the Nov. 10 passing of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, he saw brighter prospects for improved Soviet-Chinese relations than for easing of Soviet-US strains.
He said he felt the most likely area of Sino-Soviet accord was mutual troop cuts on the frontier, and that ''sooner or later'' this would occur.
In the case of the Americans, Mr. Afanasyev cited ''words of a calming nature'' from President Reagan and from Vice-President George Bush ''in his meeting with our leadership'' following Mr. Brezhnev's funeral. He welcomed a recent conference of US business representatives in Moscow, planned before Mr. Brezhnev's passing, as a ''practical step'' toward improving relations.
But he cited a Washington news conference by Secretary of State George Shultz as a sign the United States was so far sticking to a ''policy of strength'' toward the Soviet Union. He said Mr. Reagan had lifted trade sanctions on a Siberian gas-export pipeline mostly to calm US allies, and was moving to replace these sanctions with other ''negative'' steps on trade and credit policy. ''This is not even to mention the list of (US) preconditions (for improved ties): Afghanistan . . . Poland,'' he said.
Noting that new Soviet party leader Yuri Andropov had ''stated right off that we are ready for equal and mutually beneficial ties with any state,'' Mr. Afanasyev added: ''This, of course, particularly applies to the United States, in that these ties are to a great extent fundamental to the situation in the world.'' But, he said, ''We are a great nation. We know our worth. The approach of diktat is not acceptable to us.''
Mr. Afanasyev said several small advances had encouraged hope of normalization with China. In October, preliminary political talks were held in Peking. The second round, in Moscow, ''will, we believe, be held in the near future.''
He pointed to incremental development on border trade, and ties in such areas as science and sports.
And he welcomed statements by then-Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua before arriving in Moscow to attend Mr. Brezhnev's funeral, and after the minister's return to Peking, where Mr. Huang declared himslef ''quite optimistic'' over chances for improved relations.
''We have moved off dead center,'' Afanasyev said.
Substantively, ''We have not yet seen decisive steps on the Chinese side,'' Mr. Afanasyev noted. ''They have essentially preserved all preliminary conditions. . . .'' These include demands that the Soviets trim their military presence on the border, withdraw backing for the Vietnamese troop presence in Kampuchea, and withdraw their own forces from Afghanistan.
''We do not recognize preliminary conditions. Some, as the Vietnam-Kampuchea matter, are not even within the competence of the USSR.''
As for Afghanistan, he said the crisis there was a ''waste of enormous resources'' and a source of ''international trouble.'' He said that, while the Soviet Union wanted a political settlement, among the continuing problems was an ''undeclared war'' against the Afghan governement - a reference to the Soviet charge that outside powers are backing rebel forces.
Against this background, he said, the most promising area for substantive progress was on the Soviet-Chinese border, since this was a ''bilateral question.''
''My personal view is that it is quite possible the two sides can agree to a mutual troop reduction,'' he said.
''Neither the Chinese nor we are interested in keeping large numbers of troops'' on the border. ''This costs a lot of money. Our government, of course, is studying this question. . . . Sooner or later, it will be resolved.''