Soviet leader adopts `go slow' foreign policy. But Gorbachev's moves at home are swift and certain

Mikhail Gorbachev is moving like a hare at home -- and a turtle abroad. The new Soviet leader, off and running in domestic affairs, has overseen a crackdown on corruption and inefficiency in the Communist Party. The government-controlled press here quickly picked up his demands for greater productivity by the labor force.

But that press still prints the same denunciations of the United States that were current before Mr. Gorbachev took office.

That reflects Gorbachev's own emphasis since taking power three weeks ago. The swiftness and certainty with which he has placed his own stamp on domestic affairs has so far not been evident in this country's foreign policy.

Notably, President Reagan's call for a summit meeting has drawn a less-than-enthusiastic response from Moscow. Mr. Reagan has revealed that Gorbachev had answered his invitation to a summit. In an interview with the Washington Post, Reagan said he was ``hopeful'' that a summit would take place. But a senior White House official, quoted by the Post, said that while Gorbachev had endorsed ``the idea of a summit,'' no time or place had been specified.

Western diplomats here say Soviet officials have made similar comments, endorsing a summit in principle, but declining to get into specifics of when and where the two leaders might meet.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev has also done little to avoid acrimony over the killing of a US soldier by a Soviet guard in East Germany. Consequently, US-Soviet relations have soured since the shooting last week of Army Maj. Arthur Nicholson. The US has confirmed this week that it will not attend ceremonies marking the linkup of Soviet and Allied forces at the Elbe River 40 years ago in protest of the killing.

Moscow gave only a perfunctory response to the shooting, claiming that the US bears the ``entire'' responsibility for the incident. The Soviets, while agreeing to hold discussions to prevent such incidents in the future, have offered no apology.

Nor, it seems, is the Kremlin displaying much initiative at the arms control talks in Geneva. Moscow apparently leaked -- through the East German paper Neues Deutschland -- an article detailing its proposals at the talks.

Western analysts assume the Soviets, by using the newspaper as a mouthpiece, are circumventing a confidentiality pledge that binds both sides not to discuss the substance of the Geneva talks. Still, analysts here quickly sized up the Soviet position, as outlined in the report, as merely a repackaging of previously rejected proposals.

There was, said one analyst, ``nothing new'' in the proposals, which included a freeze on strategic nuclear arms, a halt to the deployment of new NATO medium-range missiles in Western Europe, and a ban on research, testing, and deployment of space weapons.

The lack of new Soviet initiatives in foreign affairs contrasts sharply with actions that Gorbachev is undertaking at home.

The Communist Party here is now engulfed by what some analysts are calling a ``purge,'' with ranking officials across the country being replaced and some being slated for criminal charges.

And the Soviet press -- perhaps in response to Gorbachev's demands to be more forthcoming in exposing malfeasance and corruption -- is giving detailed coverage of the shake-up.

Dozens of officials have been booted from office in a number of republics, including Kirghizia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan, Estonia, and Latvia. Some were apparently replaced because of advanced age, others for bribe-taking or nepotism.

Analysts, both Western and Soviet, have predicted that domestic affairs would initially demand most of Gorbachev's attention. Therefore, some suggest that it is too early to expect any shift in Soviet foreign policy.

Others express dismay that Gorbachev has been slow to seize the opportunity for a summit with President Reagan. Although Western diplomats here say the Soviets express general support for a summit, the Soviets have not been willing to fix times or dates, or even give a firm commitment to meet Reagan.

But some analysts suggest there are still compelling reasons for Gorbachev to meet the President.

Summit meetings enhance the Soviet Union's claim to superpower status, and also boost the international and domestic prestige of a Soviet leader.

No Soviet leader has yet had an opportunity to meet Reagan face-to-face in order to size up the prospects for improved relations.

The Soviets now have a fit, self-assured leader who could hold his own against Reagan, both in private give-and-take and in the news media spotlight that inevitably accompanies a summit.

Gorbachev, by appearing to be reasonable and broad minded at a summit, could be an effective salesman for Soviet arms control policies.

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