Soviet hard line convinces Belgium that it should deploy cruise missiles

Tens of thousands of people turned out here Sunday to protest the government's decision to deploy United States cruise missiles in accordance with a 1979 NATO plan. The decision last week to proceed with the deployment of the cruise missiles on schedule this month was ``nearly inevitable,'' according to government sources.

It followed by only hours a hard-line stand taken by Moscow during a meeting between top-level Belgian and Soviet officials. Less than 12 hours before the Brussels decision there was still widespread speculation that the government would delay deployment, breaking ranks with its NATO allies, in order to appease domestic opposition.

The turning point came when Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans returned to Brussels from Moscow after meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Mr. Gromyko had rejected a Belgian proposal to postpone the beginning of deployment until May in exchange for promises from the Kremlin to negotiate more flexibly at the Geneva arms talks.

Government officials say that Mr. Tindemans urged the Soviets to work toward concluding separate agreements with the US on medium-range nuclear weapons, strategic nuclear arms, and defensive weapons in space. Until now, the Kremlin has said that progress on the three sets of negotiations was interlinked.

Gromyko repeated this tough stand to Tindemans on Thursday, suggesting the Soviets are unwilling to dismantle in the short to medium term all or part of their arsenal of SS-20 nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe, or even to halt further deployments. Tindemans reported this at Thursday night's Cabinet meeting, government officials say.

Earlier US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt had announced after a NATO meeting that the Soviets had increased their SS-20 deployments from 396 to 414 since Jan. 9. This is understood to have influenced the Belgian decision.

On Saturday, Defense Minister Freddy Vreven confirmed that 16 of the missiles had arrived in Belgium Friday evening and were now operational.

The effort to exert popular and political pressure on the government will include a parliamentary vote of confidence this week. -- 30 -- {et

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