The key question at midpoint in the second round of the superpower arms control talks in Geneva is how to get the negotiations out of their present impasse. For Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island the fault lies with both superpowers. ``I feel a certain frustration that both sides are not making substantive moves for advancement,'' he commented at a press conference of the US Senate arms control monitoring team in Geneva last Friday.
For Sen. Larry Pressler (R) of South Dakota the blame falls wholly on the Soviets. ``It's not our country's fault that the talks haven't gone faster,'' he declared in assessing the negotiations that resumed May 30 and are to run until mid-July.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia was less interested in finding the culprit than in exploring what might nudge the talks ``off dead center.'' But he did say, ``The main impediment to the talks is the Soviet insistence so far that we cut out all research on defenses. This is unacceptable.'' He went on to suggest three things the Soviets could do to elicit a positive response from the US:
``1. They should cease their violations of SALT II, SALT I, and the ABM treaty.
``2. They could table some very significant proposals for deep offensive cuts.
``3. They could acknowledge finally that they have a very vigorous strategic defense initiative of their own.''
He summarized, ``The ball is clearly in the Soviets' court.''
All the senators deplored Soviet leader MikhailGENEVAGENEVA Gorbachev's public attack on the US negotiating position last Thursday -- a blast that some Westerners have interpreted as an implicit threat to walk out of the talks again as the Soviet Union did in 1983 as NATO began deploying new Euromissiles. In a speech in Dnepropetrovsk the Soviet party leader said the US had made ``no serious proposals'' in Geneva, but was using its ``program of militarization of space'' as a ``wall with no windows or doors'' against any arms control agreement.
For their part US officials have said repeatedly that Moscow is not serious in its insistent demand that US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or ``star wars'') research be stopped as a condition for any progress in arms control. It is impossible to verify compliance with a ban on research, the US points out, and it cites Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's acknowledgment of this fact in Mr. Gromyko's meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz in Geneva last January.
As for what the three negotiating teams on strategic space defense, strategic offensive weapons, and intermediate-range offensive weapons are actually doing during the present impasse, Terry Schroeder, the US spokesman for the talks, will say only that they each hold plenary sessions once a week and also meet at various social events at which bilateral discussions continue. One superplenary of all three teams was held at the beginning of this second round, and a second was held last week. Citing the confidentiality rule agreed on by the superpowers, Schroeder declined even to characterize the atmosphere of these meetings.
A source who is not on the negotiating team but is familiar with the talks confirmed there has been nothing new so far in this second round, as indicated by the comments of Gorbachev and the senators. He said that last week's report in Washington that the Soviets had repeated their 1983 proposal for a 20 or 25 percent cut in missile launchers was mistaken; in Geneva last month there was only an informal reference by Soviet negotiators to the public declaration Gorbachev made last April that the Soviets had proposed such a cut.
At the time US arms control officials said the Soviets originally made such an offer in 1983 in the strategic arms reductions talks (START). The US officials said that not only have the Soviets not repeated this proposal in Geneva this year but also they have retreated from several other offers they had made in the START and intermediate-range nuclear arms control talks in 1983.
According to US officials, the Soviet Union has never retabled that original proposal to cut strategic missile launchers to 1,800 (a 20 or 25 percent reduction, depending on how initial launcher numbers are calculated). Some US officials still expect Moscow to do so -- and to revive its other 1983 offers as if they were new proposals -- by year's end, as Gorbachev begins making some real policy decisions in foreign affairs. But they see no benefit in new US initiatives until the Soviets at least come back to their 1983 positions.