Superpowers seem ready to give a little as nuclear arms talks resume

Soviet-American peace has survived the nearly 40 years since the end of World War II. At Geneva on Wednesday, American-Soviet teams resume four years of negotiations on strategic arms limitation.

Moscow and Washington each express support prior to the parley. The mood here is alert but wary. Some ask whether the two superpowers are going about their exchanges in the right way.

Congress recently wrote into its approval of the controversial MX-missile indications that it will not vote for more arms without a definite commitment to arms control. While Western Europe prepares to install American nuclear weapons aimed at Russia before the year's end, demands rise for progress toward a new arms agreement. Washington is asking if a new approach is needed to resolve the four-year near-deadlock.

President Reagan was scheduled to hold a meeting of the National Security Council today. The purpose of the session is to bring together top military and foreign policy experts to formulate new instructions for chief US arms negotiator Edward Rowney.

The proposal now on the table at Geneva would limit the US and the Soviets to 850 long-range missile launchers each. But the US commission headed by retired Air Force Gen. Brent Scowcroft suggested a shift away from large, multiwarhead missiles to smaller, single-warhead ones.

Some believe the Washington mood has shifted. The low point, it is argued, came in the fiasco over the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, SALT II. The agreement was negotiated over seven years by three presidents and finally signed by President Carter in June 1979 in Vienna but later withdrawn. Moscow showed its heavy hand in Afghanistan and Poland, and Mr. Carter asked for a delay on implementation of SALT II. Deadlock deepened. President Reagan called the SALT II agreement ''fatally flawed'' and boosted United States arms spending.

Now as negotiations resume, there are signs that the superpowers are concerned about the stalemate and may increase their efforts. Some urge a variation in procedure. The demand for a good-faith effort at accommodation comes from various directions.

Mass protests seem to be just under the surface in Western Europe and could break into panic, some say, over the planned installation of long-range US cruise missiles in that theater. At the same time, the economic burden of increased arms expenditures is a feature of Washington debate over the deficit, estimated to reach $200 billion this year and the next. The American mood toward disarmament has changed drastically, many experts say, in the past four years.

One recurrent view says that nuclear arms control is being held back because of overly ambitious plans that ask too much too soon. Now the time is ripe, some feel, for practical progress. A combination of forces, according to this view, is driving the nuclear powers toward achieving some positive advance.

An official with the Soviet Geneva delegation said Monday, ''The Soviet Union is strongly in favor of deep reductions of strategic arms in their entirety, in the interest of lowering the level of military confrontation and diminishing the risk of outbreak of nuclear war.''

W. Averell Harriman, the former US ambassador to Moscow who spoke recently with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, told ABC News that ''there's an opportunity . . . to really improve our relations.'' He added that in their confidential 80 -minute talk, the Soviet leader indicated he wanted to return to ''normal'' relations.

The Reagan administration, through State Department spokesmen, has responded with deep interest.

Mr. Harriman's comment set the tone for a possible new approach to the Soviets, a willingness to try for smaller goals and let grandiose agreements wait.

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