Moscow responds to Reagan's wooing with grunts and grumbles
The world scene this week continues to be dominated by the curious spectacle of Ronald Reagan's unrequited wooing of the Soviets. He launched a ''let's-get-together'' campaign way back on Jan. 16 in a special speech on US-Soviet relations from the East Room of the White House to an audience of senior members of Congress and the administration.
He followed it up by sending his secretary of state, George Shultz, to Stockholm the following week for talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. He wrote a letter to Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, which was hand-carried to Moscow in early March by Gen. Brent Scowcroft.
He has since then asserted that good Soviet relations are of first importance to the United States. He has listed areas for discussion and negotiation. He has insisted that a US delegation will be in Vienna in September to talk about arms control even though there is disagreement with Moscow over the agenda. He has proposed to meet Mr. Chernenko at a time and place of Chernenko's choice, either before or after the elections.
The most recent move in the sequence of steps taken in Washington to ease relations with Moscow was an announcement by the State Department on July 25 that President Reagan has lifted the ban on Soviet fishing in US waters that President Carter had imposed in January 1980 after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
Mr. Reagan lifted the American embargo on grain sales to the Soviets in 1981 but had left the other sanctions imposed by Mr. Carter in force until this year. Since the January speech he has agreed to improve the ''hot line'' communication system, has negotiated over the Alaska-Soviet maritime border, and has agreed to open new talks on cultural exchanges in September.
There has been a consistent and sustained effort by the White House since January to regain a condition of ''normal'' relations with the Kremlin.
The response from the Kremlin has been grunts, grumbles, and the charge of trying to play domestic American politics at Moscow's expense. The Soviets have gone along, accepting such benefits as access to American fisheries and they have agreed to talks over cultural exchanges. But they have not budged on major matters.
And, above all, they have declined to be drawn into a public reconciliation with Mr. Reagan himself.
General Scowcroft was national security adviser at the White House during the Ford administration. He is highly regarded in Washington. He has been given important special assignments by President Reagan. When he went to Moscow in March in a private capacity, he was asked to carry a private letter to Mr. Chernenko. He was also given an oral message to go with the letter.
The Soviets say they offered to let the general speak to a deputy foreign minister. But the letter was never delivered, nor was the oral message.
In other words, Moscow is playing hard to get and paying Mr. Reagan back for having been labeled by him as the ''focus of evil'' in the world.
Also over the past week President Reagan was persuaded to reward Poland for having granted amnesty to many, if not to all, political prisoners.
Most sanctions imposed as a reprisal for the establishment of martial law in Poland are to be lifted. The Pope was consulted. His approval serves the purpose of allowing Mr. Reagan to forget about conditions he once demanded but which are not all to be fulfilled.
The most intriguing question about Moscow's attitude toward Mr. Reagan is whether it is done either to influence or to avoid influencing the American elections.
If the Soviets had responded to Mr. Reagan's overtures and invited him to the Kremlin for a friendly visit they would, by so doing, be interfering in the American election in favor of Mr. Reagan and against the Democrats. To refrain from any response amounts to being neutral.
Perhaps that is the safest way for them to play the hand. It would explain the negative hard line which Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko has taken consistently right through the year.