US-Soviet summit: nice idea, but will it fly?
Washington — After all the large headlines about a possible United States-Soviet summit meeting, observers here now ask: ''Where's the beef?'' So far there is little in evidence. At this writing, the Soviets have not responded to President Reagan's slight opening of the door to a meeting with Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko. A reaction is awaited. The fact that Moscow is taking its time with a response, however, is viewed here as significant.
Administration officials and outside diplomatic experts continue to believe that a summit meeting before the November election is highly unlikely. They do not entirely rule out such a summit or, at the least, an improvement of bilateral relations. But they see the recent US-Soviet parrying and thrusting as dictated in large measure by the pressures of American presidential politics.
''The Russians have not given us any indication that they would be interested in a summit,'' says an administration official. ''The President is fully willing - even eager - to solve problems with the Soviets but he cannot sit down unless they sit down with us.''
This suggests that the basic administration position has not altered; namely, that the US will talk but is not prepared to make concessions on such major issues as nuclear arms reduction.
But US officials say contacts continue on a number of bilateral and regional matters and that there could be progress on some fronts. One is a renewal of the 10-year agreement on economic and technological cooperation, which expires at the end of this month. The US has told Moscow it would like such a renewal to be followed by talks in the US-Soviet economic cooperation committee, which has not met for a number of years.
Also, while there seems no prospect for returning to the nuclear-arms negotiating table, administration officials note that the President in his press conference last week softened his position on the issue of limiting antisatellite weapons. They stress that the US is not prepared to negotiate a comprehensive treaty banning all testing of such weapons, as the Soviets would like. But the officials say various aspects of the issue are being looked at, such as limits on high-level testing.
Even movement in this area is not imminent, however. ''We're some weeks away from having anything to announce on that,'' an administration official says.
The administration finds itself in a delicate position because everything now tends to be interpreted in the context of the election campaign. It is thought that the Soviets broached the idea of a summit in an effort to preempt any bold offer Reagan might have made in his impending news conference June 14. They do not want to be seen being the spoilers in US-Soviet relations, US officials say.
President Reagan, in turn, was under pressures from the European allies and from Republican Sens. Howard Baker and Charles Percy to be more forthcoming toward Moscow. In administration eyes, the President struck a careful balance, indicating his willingness under the right conditions to hold a summit meeting but not appearing to be asking for one, a move which the Russians would have taken Russians as a political ploy.
Some outside experts are skeptical that anything of substance will emerge from the presidential gambit. ''Since the Soviets will not oblige, this was a public-relations exercise,'' says Dimitri Simes, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. There is still no 'beef.' The Republicans took the Democrats for a ride.''
Administration officials do not deny that the Baker-Percy meeting helped spark the President's decision to adopt a more conciliatory tone. ''It was a telescoping of what might have played out over a long time,'' says one official. ''The Baker thing brought things to a head.''
''But the fact is the Russians have not analyzed what he said and responded publicly or privately,'' the official adds. ''So it's still up to them to react.''
Still other analysts suggest that the Soviets are giving serious thought to what the President said. ''A summit meeting is not outside the realm of possibility,'' says Mark Garrison, director of the Center for Foreign Policy Development at Brown University. ''I don't think they would put down the President and back away when he says he's willing. So they're probably taking it seriously.''