Soviets prepare for long fight over `star wars'. Summit did not alter Reagan's view, they say
Moscow — Moscow seems to be putting the best possible face on the outcome of the summit, while bracing itself for a prolonged battle over space-based weapons. The Soviet press has, predictably, stressed the accomplishments at Geneva of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and the results of last week's summit have been treated favorably in the state-controlled press.
Privately, Soviet officials admit that they were unable to turn President Reagan from his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or ``star wars''), and now must seek to undermine support for it in the United States Congress and public, as well as among the NATO allies. But the Soviet leadership seems well aware that will be a long, difficult process.
And, in the meantime, their attention is increasingly focused on domestic concerns. On Tuesday, the country's nominal parliament, the Supreme Soviet, will meet to approve the country's next five-year plan and next year's state budget. That should set into motion some of Mr. Gorbachev's plans for streamlining this country's government and economic planning bureaucracies.
And the next few months will also see the final push to prepare for February's Communist Party Congress, a once-every-five-years event that could help Gorbachev consolidate his hold on the party even more.
Consequently, Soviet moves on arms control over the next few months will be against a backdrop of substantial political movement at home. The leadership will not have as much time to devote to US-Soviet relations.
That is why they had hoped to gain more from the summit. They had tried to make it hard for Mr. Reagan to say ``no'' to curbs on SDI by offering substantial cuts in existing nuclear weapons and holding out the possibility of on-site inspections to make sure neither side was cheating in research laboratories.
Instead, they gained only broad American committments to seek further progress in arms control negotiations.
Some Soviet officials say they hold out little hope that Reagan will change his mind about SDI in the months ahead. One official said Reagan seemed to treat SDI as a matter of faith, ``like a religion,'' and shows little signs of altering his belief in the necessity for research into a ``space shield'' against incoming missiles.
Gorbachev briefed Warsaw Pact allies in Prague on the results of the summit during a brief stopover on his way back to Moscow, and a communiqu'e on the meeting stated that the opportunity had been created for a return to d'etente.
Similarly, the government newspaper Izvestia gave an upbeat assessment of Western European reaction to the summit, saying that such leaders as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had found the summit ``an important step.''
But even if the rhetoric is temporarily eased, Moscow seems to be preparing for a long slog before relations are substantially improved.
Gorbachev said a ``mechanism'' for improvement had been established, but stressed that any progress on arms reduction must be linked to a halt on SDI. But that mechanism may take a while to get moving, given the six years during which relations between the two countries were virtually frozen.
One Soviet official says that Geneva gave a ``push'' to the ongoing Geneva arms negotiations, and that the Soviet Union would seek to use this momentum to hammer out agreements. But he said it would be a long process.
Another official said Moscow had pressed its case for an end to SDI ``at the highest level'' and could now only wait to see what effect it might have. But, he added, the Soviet Union would be considering various countermeasures should attempts to reach agreement fail.
Gorbachev, in his post-summit press conference, said these countermeasures ranged across a ``spectrum'' of issues, from increasing the Soviet offensive nuclear arsenal to possible deployment of ground-based lasers that would be capable of shooting down components of an SDI system in space.
That, in itself, seems an admission that Moscow is proceeding with its own research into the use of weapons against targets in space.
But Yevgeny Velikhov, an official at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, says Moscow has not set any deadlines for abandoning negotiations and proceeding with countermeasures.
US diplomats will be waiting to see whether the Soviets come up with any new negotiating positions when the next round of the Geneva arms control talks resume in January.