Superpower symphony: Andropov plays to West German audience

The superpower battle for West European opinion is escalating with the approach of West German elections that are likely to influence the course of arms-control talks.

Both Washington and Moscow are trying hard to appear the more serious protagonist in the Geneva talks for limiting European nuclear forces, thus hiking pressure on the other party for concessions.

Against this background, Soviet leader Yuri Andropov Jan. 11 is said to have disclosed new details on the recently published Soviet position in talks with Hans-Jochen Vogel, Social Democratic candidate for West German chancellor.

Mr. Vogel would not say what the new information was, but he hinted it concerned the precise number of missiles Moscow would be willing to cut. He did not say if the rockets would be moved or scrapped.

''My hopes that there will be an agreement have by no means been reduced by today's discussion,'' he told a news conference here, ''and have, in fact, been strengthened.''

Soviet officials were not immediately available for comment. The official news agency Tass said only that Mr. Andropov had ''explained the meaning'' of the Soviet proposals, which Andropov first made public Dec. 21.

Several days ago, following talks with Mr. Reagan in Washington, Mr. Vogel also took an optimistic line. He said he believed the Americans were prepared to compromise on their initial negotiating position in Geneva.

Another spur for superpower plays to Europe is the approach of a late 1983 NATO target date for deploying the first of 572 new US missiles in West Europe, should a Geneva accord acceptably reducing Soviet rockets not materialize.

The next round in the Moscow-Washington competition is not far off.

Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko is to travel to West Germany next week - in effect complementing the Andropov-Vogel talks by meeting with members of the more conservative incumbent coalition. Tass praised the Social Democrats' arms-control specialist, Egon Bahr, Jan. 11 for his approach to the Soviet proposals, while criticizing current German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher for holding to an ''unacceptable'' US negotiating position.

US Vice-President George Bush, meanwhile, is due to travel late this month to West Germany, other West European allies, the Vatican, and to the Geneva site of the superpower arms talks. The visit, Mr. Reagan said Jan. 8, will serve to ''underscore our fundamental commitment to peace and security in Europe, and to genuine arms reductions.''

Diplomatic sources here say that French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson is tentatively scheduled to fly to Moscow in February for talks with Soviet leaders on arms control and other issues.

Mr. Andropov has moved to take the arms-control initiative by offering to remove ''dozens'' of late-vinatge SS-20 rockets from the European part of the Soviet Union as part of a Geneva accord.

He would leave 162 medium-range nuclear missiles in the European Soviet Union - equal to the combined total of the independent French and British missile forces.

The West argues that the French and British missiles are no match for the triple-warhead Soviet SS-20s and are also not designed to defend other West European countries.

The US proposal calls for the scrapping of all SS-20s and of older, similar missiles in return for cancelation of plans to deploy new US rockets in Europe.

Twin Geneva negotiations - on European forces and on strategic arms - are currently recessed. They resume in February.

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