PRESIDENT Ronald Reagan may look upon the nomination of Max M. Kampelman, John G. Tower, and Maynard W. Glitman to head the arms-reduction negotiations in Geneva with a measure of just pride -- the most interesting inauguration present of all. The Soviet Union cannot but envy this astonishing decision of the White House to come through on the negotiation issue just at the right moment.
And in doing so, in rearranging the United States negotiating team to include officials not linked to earlier failed or inconclusive negotiating efforts, Washington has in a sense put the onus for future good-faith negotiations on the Kremlin. What many an outside observer must now be asking about is the composition of the Soviet team and whether Moscow will in fact be ready to sit down and talk by mid-March of this year. Who will be on the Soviet Union's negotiating team? Old faces linked to past talks? New officials? Arms technicians? Or Kremlin bureaucrats?
In a sense, the American side has already made the first concession -- and quite an essential one, from a technical point of view -- to entice the Russian bear back to the negotiating arena. It had long been Washington's concern how best to get the Soviets to reengage in the very talks that they had so brazenly abandoned without making it look that Moscow, by returning, had been the one that blinked.
The easiest answer for Washington: Change the nomenclature. Call this a new kind of talks, which in a way it is, since space systems are to be included.
But more was called for from the American side. You can't proclaim the newness of the next Geneva round and then send your old negotiating bear tamers over to square off with the other side. To its good sense, the White House avoided doing just that.
When a top West European visitor called on the White House last November, he passed on a note received earlier through Romanian channels. The note, in essence suggested, that the Soviets were devoutly wishing for a new US team, new faces that would permit Moscow to say with as much verisimilitude as possible that by resubscribing to Geneva it was not going back to the failed feuding of yesteryear.
Well, it did not take the European visitor's intercession to convince the administration of the legitimacy of Moscow's request. And what about Western European reaction to the change? Bonn's roving ambassador for arms control, Friedrich Ruth, to cite one example, is absolutely delighted with the choice.
The case can be made that such accommodations are too high a price to pay for the privilege of Soviet readiness to do business. Both Paul Nitze's and Edward Rowny's competence will be missed at the negotiating table. Still, if the changes in the makeup of the arms team moves negotiations forward, the chair shifting now taking place along the Potomac will add up to a solid plus. It is now time the Soviets to tell us what they plan to do to move the talks forward.
Thomas Kielinger is the capital bureau chief of the German national daily, Die Welt, in Bonn.