President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Yuri Andropov alone possess the power and authority to change the direction of Soviet-American relations and stop the nuclear arms race. A summit meeting between them is urgently needed but may be impractical for Mr. Andropov at the present time. Mr. Reagan should propose a mini-summit negotiating within terms of reference agreed to by Secretary of State George Shultz and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko when they meet in Stockholm Jan. 18. An American initiative for a mini-summit may be especially important during what still may be a transition period in the Kremlin.
Relations between Washington and Moscow have reached a critical state. Apart from grain sales, bilateral cooperation is dead. Competition in the third world is intense and dangerous. Communication between Washington and Moscow is virtually nonexistent. Worst of all, US-Soviet negotiations to limit nuclear weapons are in limbo and the arms race is out of control.
To end this state of affairs a mini-summit meeting is needed. To have a positive outcome, the negotiators must be clear about their purpose. Like a summit meeting, a mini-summit can be confined to talk, or it can be the final act in negotiating a treaty or agreement, or it can be something in between.
The Kennedy/Krushchev ''talk'' of 1961 in Vienna had no concrete purpose and degenerated into a polemical and ideological exchange. The Nixon/Brezhnev ''final act'' summit in Moscow in 1972 was not confined to talk. On the contrary , it was the culmination of three years of intense negotiations and resulted in SALT I, consisting of the historic Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the important Interim Agreement on Offensive Strategic Weapons. A ''talk'' mini-summit would be a risky venture, given Mr. Reagan's hard-line views of the Soviet Union. And a mini-summit of the Nixon/Brezhnev type is out of the question, given the absence of any near agreement on nuclear arms control.
The safest and most productive course for the negotiators is to focus on the nitty-gritty of the central arms control issue, as Ford and Brezhnev did at Vladivostok in December 1974. They agreed on the decisive numbers for SALT II, ceilings on the total number of missiles and bombers, and on the total number of multiple warhead missiles. This limited agreement was an important achievement. The central arms control issue today for our allies and for the Soviet Union is the issue of intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe. Because of the failure of the negotiations on INF weapons, the Soviets have put on hold the negotiations in Geneva on strategic arms and Vienna on conventional arms.
A Vladivostok-type mini-summit should seek understanding or agreements on two subjects.
* Bilateral agreements to improve political relations
* Guidelines for an interim agreement on intermediate-range nuclear weapons (INF).
Agreement should be sought on a package of measures to improve bilateral relations: opening of the Soviet consulate in New York and the American consulate in Kiev; conclusion of a cultural agreement; stimulation of scientific and other exchanges; a revived trade agreement; and settlement of the lend-lease debt. These modest measures would begin to provide the political context for progress on nuclear arms control.
The negotiators should agree on a compromise on the two issues blocking an INF agreement. The US would agree that British and French intermediate missiles would be taken into account in an INF agreement. These missiles would be counted as part of the Western quota but they would not be limited in any way. The Soviet Union would agree to American deployment of cruise missiles which, with British and French missiles, would equal the Soviet force. The US would not deploy any Pershing II missiles because of their speed, accuracy, and first-strike capability, and would dismantle those that have been deployed. This agreement on INF guidelines would provide for a limited deployment of American cruise missiles but for a substantial Soviet reduction of intermediate-range missiles targeted on Europe.
Secretary of State Shultz should explore these ideas with Foreign Minister Gromyko when they meet in Stockholm. If Gromyko's response were positive, Soviet-American relations would begin to move in a rational direction.