Soviets' next move on European missile talks may be up to the West
The next Soviet move in European nuclear arms talks may well be decided in Washington. Or in Bonn.
This, at least, is the consensus among Moscow-based diplomats. It is reinforced by recent public remarks from official Soviet commentators.
Further, purposefully alluring details on the stated Soviet negotiating stand could be leaked in the weeks ahead - for example, when the French foreign minister comes to town in mid-February.
When the Social Democratic candidate for chancellor in the coming West German elections came here recently, he got such a clarification, in the form of an assurance that some Soviet rockets removed from Europe under an eventual accord would be scrapped, not just repositioned.
Yet diplomats say any major Soviet negotiating shift is likely to await at least the German elections, March 6.
The Kremlin is also keeping a close watch for any change in the US position, amid hopes here for pressure in the West for the Americans to compromise. This seems especially true in light of the current European tour of Vice-President George Bush. That trip, Pravda suggested Jan. 30 just hours before Mr. Bush's takeoff, reflects the ''moral isolation'' of US arms policy.
The current negotiating stand of Washington and its NATO allies is the ''zero option'' - envisaging the scrapping of Moscow's more than 300 triple-warhead SS- 20 missiles in trade for shelving of plans to begin basing new US rockets in West Europe by the end of this year.
''At present,'' said a prominent Moscow foreign-policy analyst on a Soviet radio discussion show Jan. 23, ''US (arms negotiating) policy is insufficiently clear.'' He added that so far he saw no sign of a substantive US policy shift.
The analyst, Alexander Bovin of Izvestiya, said President Reagan seemed under contradictory pressure at home from left and right - while in Western Europe, there was an ''increasing'' understanding that the ''zero option'' needed changing.
Another Soviet analyst, party Central Committee consultant Nikolai Shishlin, added: ''One gets the impression that despite (West German Chancellor Helmut) Kohl's apparently hard-line policy and totally unconditional support of Reagan's 'zero option,' some sort of shift in views has taken place in West Germany.''
Mr. Shishlin cited what he called ''fairly well-founded comment'' abroad suggesting that a recent visit to Bonn by the Soviet foreign minister ''has led to the West German government's muted recognition that the 'zero option' . . . cannot be maintained'' as an unaltered basis for negotiation.
In West Germany the ''Euromissile'' issue has figured prominently in the election campaign between Mr. Kohl's incumbent conservatives and his main challengers, the Social Democrats.
Pravda, in a general arms-control commentary Jan. 30, singled out the Bonn government as a party that could ''make its contribution'' to heading off new US missile deployment in Europe.
Publicly, the Soviets have recently repeated rejection of the ''zero option'' and ruled out an ''intermediate'' accord trading some Soviet SS-20s for a Western decision to deploy only part of the new US rockets earmarked for Western Europe.
On the first point, there is little reason to expect the Soviets to retreat.
On the second, the picture seems less clear.
Senior Soviet officials make clear privately that if the Geneva talks reach accord, it is sure to fall between the Reagan ''zero option'' and what one official calls ''our zero option.''
The Soviet position, as spelled out by Communist Party leader Yuri Andropov in December, would leave Moscow with 162 SS-20s based in the European part of the country. This, the Soviets say, would balance the 162 nuclear rockets currently deployed by Britain and France.
Though there are plans to modernize British and French forces, Western officials point out that at present they are no match for the SS-20s.
Moreover, Western states, including Britain and France, argue that these forces should not be counted in the superpower talks on the European nuclear balance. This is because the British and French arsenals are independently controlled, outside NATO command.