Kremlin leaders should think twice
Ronald Reagan of Washington and Yuri Andropov of Moscow dueled this week for the goodwill of Western Europe. The major move of the week was President Reagan's ''interim proposal'' on intermediate-range missiles based in Europe.
He informed both the Soviet delegation at the Geneva talks on these weapons, and his NATO allies, that the United States is ready and willing to agree to limit the number it will deploy in NATO countries to the number the Soviets want to retain on their side of the ''Iron Curtain.''
It was a move that had been negotiated in advance with the NATO governments and represents in their opinion a fair and reasonable American position. The offer, made in Easter week, should counteract some of the anti-American demonstrations expected in Europe over the Easter weekend.
It should also clear the way for deployment of some of the new weapons which are scheduled to be based in NATO countries to counter the estimated 351 SS-20 missiles in the USSR. These Soviet missiles at present place all the NATO countries in Europe under a threat not yet balanced by equivalent NATO weapons.
The Reagan proposal left Western statesmen trying to guess how Moscow will counter this move. The failure of Washington until now to make a fair offer has been a major propaganda advantage for the Soviets in Europe. They could claim to be more interested in arms control than Washington.
Now an offer has been made that they must meet either by going into serious negotiations over the formula or by trying to discredit it. It will be difficult for them to do the second in view of the fact that the offer is flexible. President Reagan, in effect, would allow the Soviets to keep whatever intermediate-range weapons they wish to keep in Europe. The US will match what they do, no more and no less.
Originally, the US was scheduled to deploy 464 ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe plus 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles. The Soviets have been particularly unhappy about the Pershing IIs. Being ballistic, they could reach their target within minutes of being fired. Their range is sufficient to nearly reach Moscow from a launch point in West Germany. Their accuracy is rated at 30 meters. This is the best for any missile yet perfected anywhere. The nearest the Soviets come to that is 300 meters.
With a 250-kiloton warhead and an accuracy rating of 30 meters a Pershing II could, at least in theory, knock out any Soviet missile in the western part of the Soviet Union. No missile silo is ''hard'' enough to withstand a blow at only 30 meters away.
So Kremlin leaders have a reason to think twice before they reject this week's Reagan offer. To reject it would be to undermine their claim to be more ''peace loving'' than Mr. Reagan.
On the other hand, to accept would take the ground out from under the anti-American demonstrations which put a strain on the NATO alliance. Among the experts the odds are thought likely to favor a Soviet rejection in order to keep up tension in the alliance.
The week had opened with Mr. Andropov accusing the US of trying to ''disarm'' the Soviet Union. He asserted that the plan proposed the previous week by Mr. Reagan for an outer space missile defense system would set off a ''runaway arms race.'' Just for good measure he also accused Mr. Reagan of a ''deliberate lie.''
In Washington the following day the State Department retorted that Mr. Andropov was guilty of a ''false allegation.''
In the battle of mutual invective and vilification the two have now reached a new high (or low?) level. It would almost seem that they have now gone about as far as they can go. In effect each calls the other a lying warmonger. What comes next after that?
On the sidelines of the great central duel over weapons control and the approval of Western Europe were two other secondary duels during the week.
The Soviets, who are under general world displeasure over their military in Afghanistan, invited the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Moscow for a visit. He talked with Mr. Andropov. It was reported that the Soviets explored with him possible ways to ''normalize the situation around Afghanistan.''
For Moscow to have done that would seem to hint that they are looking around for some face-saving way to get out from under a military exercise now in its fourth year without conclusion. Europe, of course, would welcome a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Over in the American backyard, counterrevolutionary Nicaraguan rebels armed with US weapons invaded their own country from bases in Honduras. Debate wrangled on during the week at the UN Security Council. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the US ambassador, defended the propriety of US intervention in Nicaragua, without quite admitting that the US is actually funding and arming the invaders. She played to a cool house.
Not even Washington's best friends in Europe seemed to like the idea of the US deliberately trying to bring down the government in Nicaragua by a counterrevolution. To them it probably smelled too much like what the Soviets do in Poland and other East European countries.
Does Moscow support left-wing movements in Central America to goad the US in applying its weight there on the right-wing side? Moscow does seem to be the net gainer whenever the US gets involved in one of the various civil-war situations to its south.
In the UN debates, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala were Mrs. Kirkpatrick's main allies. All three have right-wing regimes supported by Washington.