The United States won ``more than I anticipated'' in the Soviet-American arms talks agreement, quietly exulted one top official in the star-studded American team in Geneva. The negotiations on the forthcoming talks were hard, noted another American delegation member, and the Soviets yielded on ``star wars'' only at the very end of the Jan. 7-8 exchanges.
The account that follows is pieced together from separate comments by these two officials and three others on the American team.
American satisfaction with the agreement was evident both in the buoyant mood of the Americans and in their availability to journalists soon after the talks.
According to the second official, the final Soviet concession on ``star wars'' (the American Strategic Defense Initiative research program on anti-missile weapons) was to accept that American research will proceed concurrently with the talks.
The first hint that the Soviets would yield came only in the last hour or two of negotiations, when the two sides were drafting the joint public statement. The Soviets came back after a caucus -- Soviet caucusing got more intensive in the latter stage of the talks -- and offered language for the statement that omitted their previous demand for a suspension of ``star wars'' research.
The other major point the Americans won in setting the framework of the talks, according to the official, was inclusion of land-based as well as space-based ``space-related weapons'' as subjects of the arms-control talks.
This means, among other things, that the Soviet radar at Krasnoyarsk -- which the US suspects is a violation of the 1972 Soviet-American antiballistic missile treaty -- will get equal billing in the talks with the American ``star wars'' program.
The Americans also managed to make the talks more comprehensive than the Soviets initially wanted. Last summer Moscow proposed talks on the demilitarization of space, then refused to begin negotiations when Washington said it would also bring up offensive missiles in any talks.
The Americans also won, tacitly, Soviet acceptance of the NATO deployment of new intermediate-range missiles in Europe to offset earlier Soviet deployments. After walking out of the superpowers' strategic nuclear and Euromissile arms-control talks 13 months ago as those NATO deployments began, Moscow declared that it would not return to arms control negotiations until the deployments were rescinded.
One member of the American team noted that the topic of intermediate-range missiles figured very little in the two-day talks.
Not surprisingly, the Soviets contest this interpretation of the agreement. In a midnight press conference that was amiably timed to let US Secretary of State George Shultz first finish interviews with American TV networks, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko maintained that Moscow had made no retreat on its threat to stay away from intermediate-range missile negotiations. The talks that will begin soon are new ones, he said, not the old failed ones.
The big point the Soviets won was American willingness to discuss the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Shultz specified in his press conference that the US has made no decisions to go beyond research in SDI. In the period before such decisions will be made several years hence, he said, the US is prepared to discuss strategic defense.
Tactically, what the Soviets won was the failure to name a specific date for beginning the new talks. Privately, one American team member indicated March as the expected opening. It was unclear why the Soviets wanted to leave the formal timing open.
In broader terms what the Soviets won was the setting of an ultimate goal of the talks as ''the complete elimination of nuclear arms everywhere.'' Decades ago the Soviets began advocating general and complete disarmament, while the Americans have tended to regard elimination of all nuclear weapons as not only utopian, but also destabilizing and dangerous.
In discussing the talks American officials tend to twin this ``ultimate'' goal with the Reagan administration's long-standing aim of ``radical reductions'' in nuclear arms.
More important than the formal stated goal for the Americans is the framework in which the three-tiered arms-control talks -- on strategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range nuclear weapons, and ``space-related'' weapons -- will be conducted.
The basic criterion for good arms control, as the joint statement makes clear, is ``strengthening strategic stability.''
Stability is a theoretical concept the Soviets have not been comfortable with. It sits ill with the Marxist precept of a historical dialectic and expectation of inevitable world progress toward a socialist future.
It is, however, the live-and-let-live basis of the modus vivendi the superpowers have evolved over the decades in order to survive in the nuclear age.