As West European leaders and President Reagan meet in New York this week for a Geneva summit preview, the East Europeans are gathering here for a similar session with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It is a Warsaw Pact summit, the periodic conference which routinely brings together party and state chiefs and their defense and foreign ministers to take current stock of security, arms control, and other issues in East-West relations.
The forthcoming superpower summit between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev -- now less than a month away -- gives this Sofia get-together a special flavor.
The Soviet alliance functions in a far less open manner than NATO. Normally such meetings are conducted behind tightly closed doors. Little or nothing of what is said is revealed. Information to the outside world is usually confined to a bland declaration setting forth bloc attitudes -- attitudes that are strict reflections of Soviet foreign policy.
Whether, because of its special importance, there will be a departure from this secretiveness and a venture into Gorbachev-style public relations remains to be seen.
But even if there is not, and even if we are not told what the Soviet leader said, the final declaration should give some clue of the latest trends in Soviet thinking as the Geneva encounter nears.
It may conceivably shed some light on precisely how fixed Soviet dislike of Reagan's Strategic Defense Intiative (SDI, or ``star wars,'' as it is popularly called) will be when it finally comes up in face-to-face argument between the two leaders.
In recent talks in several East European capitals, this writer found Communist Party spokesmen and foreign ministries firmly -- and unhappily -- of the opinion that SDI is, in fact, destined to become the dangerous ``sticking point'' at the summit.
At the same time, however, they seemed not to give up all hope of some compromise or trade-off should both sides -- and both men -- be threatened with a summit failure.
But current pessimism may have been deepened by the blunt Oct. 19 statement in the Soviet Communist Party daily Pravda that the Soviet Union would respond with space-based weapons if the United States insists on going ahead with SDI.
The article's author -- the Soviet chief of staff, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev -- said that if SDI were continued, ``nothing would remain for us but to adopt countermeasures in the fields of both offensive and other armaments, not excluding defensive ones and including those based in outer space.''
The Soviet decision two years ago to respond to NATO deployment of US intermediate-range missiles by installing their own medium-range missiles on the territory of two Warsaw Pact allies provoked some anxiety among all the East Europeans. And their apprehension over the ``star wars'' issue and fears that the two superpowers could fail to resolve it by mutual agreement was strongly evident in recent talks.
The Soviets continue to insist that the 1972 US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty unambiguously bars testing and deployment of space-based weapons systems.
Thus, this week's communiqu'e here:
May offer some small indication of whether this, in fact, represents Gorbachev's final political word at Geneva, or is only the Soviet military's view.
Will undoubtedly declare bloc support (including that of maverick Romania) for Gorbachev's proposals for a 50 percent cut in delivery systems and a reduction in warheads to 6,000 on each side.
May conceivably come out with some new propositions, if only for the purpose of making a further impact on Western scientific and public opinion.
Aside from Geneva, a second item on the Sofia agenda may be the Soviet Union's recently revealed economic blueprint for the rest of the century, as well as its next draft of the five-year plan. The allies also are currently completing their plans both for 1986-90 and the longer term. All are involved in close coordination with each other and with the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev is likely to press his allies to adopt a hard-headed, urgent approach similar to the one he favors for his country. Certainly it is already clear that Gorbachev wants better industrial and economic performance in the Soviet Union to be mirrored by the East bloc.
It is said that he will remain in Bulgaria for a day or so after the Warsaw Pact meeting. If he does, he will undoubtedly pursue further the kind of criticisms voiced by Soviet Ambassador Leonid Grekov in August about problems of quality in the products Bulgaria sells to the Soviets in return for oil, gas, and other raw materials.
And Prague has acknowledged that the Soviets are dissatisfied with the standards of machinery that they import from much more developed Czechoslovakia and other East European countries.
This the Prague regime did by printing an article last month in the Czechoslovak Communist Party daily, Rude Pravo, that was written by Nikolai Baibakov, head of the Soviet State Planning Commission until he was replaced last week by a younger man.
And Gorbachev, it may be assumed, intends to repeat the demand for product quality to everyone here this week as part of the economic advance he has described as the Soviet Union's own absolute top priority.