More missiles make the rhetoric grow colder

After the first high-level Soviet-American contact in four months, three questions remain:

* Are Washington and Moscow on the way to a reluctant coexistence?

* Is the Soviet Union - which has yet to resolve its own leadership succession - still deeply uncertain about its East-West policy following its failure to block NATO's Euromissile deployments?

* Or is the harsh Soviet rhetoric against the United States in Stockholm and Moscow a measure of Soviet policy for the rest of this American election year?

This seems to be the between-the-lines reading of comments by American officials following the meeting Wednesday of US Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. The last high-level contact between the superpowers occurred in Madrid just after the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 7.

This latest session was conducted on the fringes of the new conference on ''confidence-building'' measures in Europe. At the same time, Moscow announced deployment of SS-22 missiles in East Germany (see story Page 9).

Earlier in the day Mr. Gromyko gave what US officials view as a ''tough'' opening address at the Stockholm conference. He excoriated US ''militarism, enmity, and war hysteria.''

He gave no hint of responding to new overtures in President Reagan's Jan. 16 speech.

Instead, Gromyko accused the US by name of having a ''pathological obsession'' with military production, of ''thinking in terms of war and acting accordingly.'' In Lebanon, Gromyko charged, ''the US war machine is sowing death and destruction.''

In Grenada, the US committed a ''piratical act of terrorism,'' according to Gromyko, and in Nicaragua the US ''is hurling gangs of mercenaries and terrorists'' into action. In El Salvador, Washington is ''propping up the murderous antipopular regime.''

Gromyko's hectoring made Shultz's conference address of the day before seem very restrained. Shultz was tough in his own right in underlining the importance of human rights and especially in blaming Moscow for the ''artificially imposed (postwar) division of Europe.'' But in a critical diplomatic distinction, he did not condemn the Soviet Union by name. Nor did he refer at all to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan or to Soviet-backed internal repression in Poland.

Some Soviet discomfiture at the new shift of emphasis in the Reagan administration rhetoric - from talk of nuclear war to talk of East-West reconciliation - could be read into Gromyko's speech.

He felt obliged to call ''the current statements by the US administration as to its readiness for negotiations'' nothing more than ''a verbal cover-up'' and ''verbal exercises which have been resorted to especially often in Washington in the last few days.'' And in citing US aims of ''military superiority over the Soviet Union,'' Gromyko referred to past rather than present US statements, saying that ''it was only yesterday the US leaders . . . were quite cynically holding forth on this subject.''

As expected, Gromyko in effect repeated the Soviet position that Moscow will not resume Euromissile arms control negotiations until NATO has removed the intermediate-range missiles that became operational Dec. 31.

In the less polemical portion of his speech, Gromyko repeated Soviet proposals for international declarations condemning nuclear war, pledging no first use of nuclear weapons and renunciation of the use of military force. He repeated the Soviet call for a ban on chemical weapons in Europe, a reduction in military spending, a freeze on nuclear weapons, and nuclear-free zones in Northern Europe or Europe as a whole.

Shultz and other US officials have previously dismissed such declarations of intentions as of little value. Gromyko did indicate interest, however, in pursuing ''confidence-building measures,'' the topic of the Stockholm conference. ''Prior notification of major military maneuvers could be further developed,'' Gromyko said, and ''the question of major maneuvers and redeployment of troops also deserves most serious attention.''

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