West European officials are worried as they see the gap between the United States and the Soviet Union widening before the November summit between the two nations' leaders. These officials had hoped the summit in Geneva would help to reduce tensions and improve the international political climate.
Instead, as President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev prepare for their meeting, the US and Soviet governments have been busy trading accusations.
West European diplomats say that Mr. Gorbachev's aim appears to be to weaken Reagan's position before the summit by presenting himself as a reasonable and peace-loving statesman. Mr. Reagan, meanwhile, is seen as counterattacking with tough language about the Soviet Union in an attempt to intimidate the Soviets into believing the US will make no concessions at the summit.
Gorbachev has made several recent moves which have put the US -- from a propaganda point of view -- on the defensive, including:
A forceful interview in Time magazine this week on the coming summit, covering Soviet views on arms control and US-Soviet relations.
Suspension of Soviet nuclear tests until the end of the year.
Hints of Soviet willingness to make substantial reductions in its ballistic arsenal in exchange for a US agreement not to develop and deploy space weapons.
An announcement that he will meet with French President Franois Mitterrand in Paris, in October. This meeting is seen as part of a renewed Soviet effort to drive a wedge between the US and its Western allies.
Reagan's countermoves, according to some Western diplomats, include: the US decision to test an antisatellite weapon in space, the charge that Soviet authorities have contaminated US diplomats in Moscow with a chemical to aid in Soviet surveillance of them, and the rejection of Gorbachev's nuclear-test moratorium.
These moves are seen here as aimed at putting Gorbachev on the defensive, and the Soviet initiatives are seen as an attempt to isolate Reagan and make him appear to West Europeans as belligerent.
Some West European officials say there seems to be no unified position on the US side on what to expect from the summit and how to approach it.
``The State Department seems to be interested in a deal which would limit Reagan's `star wars' in exchange for sharp reductions of Soviet missiles, while the Pentagon seems to feel that any deal with the Soviets is bad per se,'' says a well-placed European NATO source. ``Star wars,'' the popular name for Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, is a program designed to develop space-based antisatellite weapons.
``It has become clear, from Gorbachev's initiatives in recent months, that he hoped to turn the Geneva summit into a trap,'' one informed West European source says. ``Reagan would either have to give up on `star wars' or appear as a warmonger in the eyes of the world's public opinion. Reagan is now reacting to Gorbachev's encirclement moves with a frontal attack: the message being that `either you stop playing wise guy, or else we go back to the harsh anti-Soviet diplomacy of recent years.' ''