For once, Kremlin and White House are in sync. Leaked memos and mid-level talks are among signs they're ready to do business
In world affairs, omissions sometimes tell us as much as commissions. This week President Reagan omitted the Soviet Union and Syria from his list of terrorist-spawning countries whom he called enemies of the United States. Syria is on the State Department's official ``enemies'' list. The Soviet Union has often in the past been accused by Mr. Reagan of sponsoring and promoting terrorism.
In his July 8 speech to the American Bar Association, Mr. Reagan noted ``the Soviet Union's close relationship with almost all of the terrorist states I have mentioned.'' But he did not say ``all,'' and he did not put the Soviet Union on his list along with North Korea, Iran, Libya, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
The omission of Syria is understandable. Reagan has just thanked President Assad of Syria for help in the release of the 39 American hostages from TWA Flight 847, and has asked him again to try to help free the other seven Americans believed still in captivity somewhere in the Middle East.
The omission of the Soviet Union has heavier implications, as Reagan's severest critics on his own political right were quick to sense.
George Will, currently one of the most prominent and active spokesmen for the political far right, was on television immediately after the speech roundly protesting against the omission. Mr. Will made it clear that he is afraid it means that Reagan seriously intends to try to do real business with his Soviet opposite number, Mikhail Gorbachev, when they meet in Geneva in November.
That Mr. Will's fears are well grounded seems to be more and more likely. There are other items in the flow of recent news to indicate that for once both Moscow and Washington are reaching at the same time for at least an abatement of tension in the relationship, and perhaps even for useful mutual business.
For once the urges in the two main world capitals seem to be in sync.
Here are some other signs that the two great superpowers are both, for a change, heading in the same direction with a similar interest.
1. Moscow condemned kidnapping during the hostage crisis and approved the role which President Assad played in that affair.
2. The US delegation to the disarmament talks in Geneva has leaked a report, not yet verified, that the Soviets have indicated a new readiness to accept US research into anti-missile defenses in outer space. If so, this would help loosen the logjam which has held up progress in Geneva.
3. Soviet and US diplomatic delegations met and talked together on June 18 and 19 about Afghanistan. There have been similar middle-level special talks about the Middle East and South Africa. There has been no leak yet from these talks, which in itself means that they were serious and aimed seriously at possible results.
4. Reagan proposed a summit with Mr. Gorbachev. Gorbachev has accepted. They will meet and talk for three days in November.
5. A recent report by Leslie Gelb in the New York Times disclosed that as far back as November 1983, Robert McFarlane, the President's national-security adviser, wrote a memorandum suggesting that it was time to start moving on the diplomatic front.
The President said no at that time because of coming elections, but put mid-1985 down as the best time for new foreign policy approaches.
So, here we are now at that mid-1985 point which President Reagan had pinpointed over a year and a half ago as being the appropriate moment for motion on the East-West diplomatic front.
And it so happens that a new leader of the new generation has arisen in Moscow who, in a hundred remarkable days there has consolidated his own political position, brought new and younger blood into the Politburo, and is obviously ready and willing to take a new look at the old features of inherited Soviet foreign policy.
In other words, the timing is auspicious.
The two leaders of the world's two superpowers are both in a political position to do business with each other. Their respective diplomats are already hard at work on preliminary talks.
The question still to be answered is whether their motivations are as much in sync as is their political ability to act.
We know of Gorbachev that his priority concern at home is the invigoration of the Soviet economy. It has long been sluggish. It is still sluggish. Gorbachev wants to get it going again. If the burden of a new arms race could be lifted from the Soviet economy, his task would be eased.
Does he realize that?
And what price might he be willing to pay both to avoid the burden of another arms race and to gain fuller access to the more advanced technology of the West?
If we knew the answer to those questions, we could foresee the results of the meeting in Geneva in November.